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According to the latest Mastercard Love Index, South Africans are willing to dig deeper into their pockets to spoil the ones they love on Valentine’s Day, splashing out on experiences like dining out and travel rather than on traditional gifts.

The index, created by analysing credit, debit and prepaid transactions across the past three Valentine periods (11th-14th February 2016 – 2018), revealed that sentimental spending in South Africa has grown by 66 percent since 2016 – well above the global average of three percent – with the majority (30 percent) of Valentine’s purchases made on 11 February.

Dinner dates at a restaurant remain the most popular way for South Africans to say “I Love You”, accounting for more than 80 percent of the total transactions made in 2018.

Although the stomach may be the quickest way to a loved one’s heart, it isn’t the only one. Jetting off for Valentine’s Day (via plane or train) saw a significant rise as the number of transactions increased by 161 percent in 2018, accounting for 25 percent of total spend over the most romantic time of the year.

Indulging in a hotel stay remains a firm favorite, with hotels comprising 40 percent of the total value spent over the Valentine’s period in 2018.

While plumping for traditional gifts like flowers saw a 24 percent increase in the number of transactions versus 2016, this category accounted for a mere one percent of the total transactions. Spending on jewellery in 2018 declined 43 percent since 2016.

“Spoiling your loved one on Valentine’s Day shows no signs of slowing down in South Africa,” says Mark Elliott, Division President, Mastercard Southern Africa. “Our data also highlights the move towards the ‘experience economy’ where consumers are choosing to create lasting experiences and happy memories rather than purchasing material gifts.”

When it comes to paying for purchases, the use of contactless technology continues to rise in momentum as the value of transactions rose by a huge 556 percent in 2018 compared to the same period in 2017. It’s hardly surprising this is a popular method of settling the bill – especially with contactless payments now widely accepted in the country.

Meanwhile, appetite for online shopping has grown with a healthy 81 percent increase in the number of e-commerce transactions. Yet, as payments become more digitized, the power of the physical touch remains – 97 percent of Valentine’s Day transactions are still made in person.

“With the rise of safe and seamless contactless and digital payments, it’s now easier than ever to impress our loved ones with meaningful Valentine’s surprises,” says Elliott

“Now in its fourth year, our Mastercard Love Index offers retailers and merchants priceless insights into consumer buying habits and behaviours during the period leading up to the most romantic day of the year.”

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