The big fat Indian wedding, where families spend monstrous sums onÂ multiple ceremonies often involving thousands of guests, has now become a muted affair due to the Covid effect. As restrictions on large gatherings remain across the country, many families are opting to postpone wedding ceremonies.
But amid the uncertainty, as almost everything is going digital and becoming the ânew normalâ, a few matrimonial sites have come as a saviour by offering online or virtual weddings.
BestMediaInfo.com, in a conversation with these websites, finds out how the matchmaking industry is enduring the impact of the Covid outbreak and trying to wriggle its way out.
In a recent survey by Jeevansathi.com, 46% respondents said they would like to meet their prospective partners for the first time over a video call. Out of these, 39% acknowledged that virtual is the only option available at the moment while 32% felt that it is more convenient in general.
Interestingly, 52% of the survey respondents confirmed that they will continue to meet prospects over video calls even in a post-coronavirus world, indicating a new normal for onlineÂ matrimonyÂ portals.
Knowing someone virtually has never got its fair share of love in India, but during unprecedented times like these, online ways to find a connection is bliss for many.
Rohan Mathur, Business Head, Jeevansathi.com, said,Â "We have seen a surge in engagement in the last few months on our apps. We have not noticed any major change in behaviour of our audiences during the early stages like searching and shortlisting. The transformation comes when people finally decide to meet the prospective match, which is now difficult. Hence, at this stage, people are opting for virtual ways to connect.â
The website has witnessed that users are engaging three times more with its voice and video calling feature than before. As a result, the platform witnessed a 60% hike in the number of voice and video calls. Interestingly, the total time spent by users on voice and video calls has increased 3X while the average duration per call has also increased 2X.
It is now also regularly organisingÂ Milan SamarohsÂ where people can connect with like-minded individuals over audio/video calls completely free of cost. So far, it has successfully conducted over 300 events in various audience groups, including separate events for NRIs living in incompatible time zones.
Even though BharatMatrimonyâs 145 plus retail outlets could not open due to Covid, the website has been doing well and has seen a 30% increase in registrations during this period, according to Murugavel Janakiraman, Founder and CEO of Matrimony.com. Its 4,000 associates are working out of home to serve over 4.5 million active members.
He said that the search for a life partner generally takes about six months to a year, so matchmaking will not be impacted.
The website is building on its efficiency, adapting and re-inventing during the ongoing pandemic. As it is focusing on improving the product and ensuring that customers are not impacted in any way, it has launched a platform âHome Weddingsâ on MatrimonyBazaar to provide an entire range of Covid-safe wedding services right from catering to makeup, includingÂ purohits,Â at the doorstep. This service is open to the public and not just BharatMatrimony members.Â The website has also launched a new video chat feature to address the challenge of members currently being unable to meet in person outside home, due to the lockdown restrictions. It provides privacy controls to the individuals and allows matches to connect via video call without exchanging phone numbers.
Adhish Zaveri, Director, Marketing, Shaadi.com, said, âFortunately, we have not been impacted by the lockdown as severely. While it is obvious why, there is more to it than meets the eye. For one, life has come to a standstill since the lockdown. The time at hand allows people to reflect on the larger decisions that they have otherwise been putting on hold. Secondly, people are seeing this as a good time to form new connections and hopefully if and when life resumes to normal, they will be ready to meet each other in person.â
Till some degree of certainty comes back in our lives, the website is going to work with short-term plans and constantly recalibrate them based on the evolving situation.
Difficult times are likely to extend beyond the lockdown and we can expect consumer sentiment to be muted in the near term. In such situations, an easy decision is to stop advertising. The harder decision and in all likelihood a more beneficial one is going to be to continue investing in building the brand, albeit frugally.
Keeping this in mind, Shaadi.com has adopted a zero-based budgeting approach. Â Instead of using a trim-down approach, it has started building the spends bottom-up.
Zaveri believes that this approach does a much better job in surfacing ineffective and discretionary marketing spends.
With its âWeddings From Homeâ initiative, where it is able to get people married from the comfort of their homes, it thus believes to have become a creator of positive human stories that drives genuine community impact.
âWeâve continuously stayed connected with the consumer and have tried to keep pace with their changing habits. Falling back to the consumer story and their changing habits has been instrumental in our success. And in the absence of big research budgets, the good old dipsticks worked just fine for the website,â he shared.
The latest reports and the experts in the same arena had agreed on how the consumption on these websites has increased as users get more time to filter out the choices.
And to ensure customersâ experience exciting, Shaadi.com has in fact waived off membership fees during the lockdown period. This has helped in improving the matchmaking experience for many, since it makes it much easier for people to connect with each other.
In times like these, people are confined to their homes and lounges, shopping centres, movie theatres still continue to be closed. The trend that has emerged during the pandemic onÂ matrimonyÂ sites are prospective candidates opting for video and voice calls features to connect with their future soul-mates and from the companiesâ front, hosting virtual events to fast-track the selection and meeting processes. But how much the users are welcoming this idea?
As wedding from home becomes the new normal, how does the customersâ acceptance looks like?
For Shaadi.com, the interest for âWeddings From Homeâ has been overwhelming.
Zaveri said, âWeâve got a bunch of people reaching out to us, thanking us for what weâre doing.Â We have already done three weddings to date and weâve also launched WeddingsFromHome.com, a website that allows users to plan their own DIY virtual wedding.â
Even the Jeevansathi.comâs Milan Samaroh impact has been such that it has seen a 5x increase in people-to-people conversations during the event and a 2x increase in matches. Such events during the lockdown allowed thousands of people to connect over video calls when physical meetings were not possible.
âIt also facilitated large numbers of meet-ups in this period to help accelerate the meeting and shortlisting process. We believe that this change is here to stay and will be the new normal,â said Mathur.
People have come to accept the new normal and have started organising weddings at home and in small halls. The scale of weddings and the expense has certainly come down.
âWe may not see the Big Fat Indian wedding anytime soon,â said Janakiraman.
But the wedding industry, which had been impacted as marriages could not be conducted during the lockdown, is slowly picking up, with the government permitting up to 50 guests for a wedding.