INDIAN NUPTIALS can be garish affairs. The groom often rides to the venue on a horse, or a Royal Enfield motorcycle. Portable DJ sets, fired up by car batteries, blare out Bollywood hits. Traffic on busy streets is routinely blocked to accommodate wedding processions. Matrimony in India is also big business. KPMG, a consultancy, estimates the wedding industry’s revenues at roughly $50bn. Before the pandemic these were growing by 25% a year.
As elsewhere, covid-19 has forced many Indian couples to postpone tying the knot. It may also have changed the way they go about it. With big weddings on hold because of their superspreader potential, many informal caterers, coconut-water sellers, ice-cream shops, wedding-card printers and flower vendors are struggling as weddings are put off. Online services, by contrast, are thriving. Matrimony.com, one of the biggest, has reported a rise in revenues of at least 20%, year on year, in each of its past four quarters. Shaadi.com, among the oldest such sites in India, has seen a jump in subscribers. And wedding platforms that help families to organise and even conduct weddings online are popping up.
Digitisation even extends to courtship. Prospective brides and grooms can no longer introduce themselves in person, sometimes perform on stage, and sit for interviews with their pick’s parents across a desk, speed-dating style. But in India, where arranged marriages remain common, parents and matchmakers still have to be involved. And so now does Zoom.
Murugavel Janakiraman, boss of Matrimony.com, expects its new video-calling feature for introductions to persist—not least because it deals with the common grouse from customers that their chosen one’s profile picture embellishes reality. During nationwide lockdowns last year video calls also allowed couples to continue their wooing virtually. Jeevansathi.com, another big matchmaker, saw its number of video meetings rise more than 11-fold. Call duration rose by a factor of ten.
Pre-wedding functions are also increasingly online. Couples seek the blessing of elders by touching the laptop screen in lieu of their feet, says Kanika Subbiah, founder of WeddingWishList.com, a wedding platform. WedMeGood, an app, hosts vendors like makeup artists, photographers, caterers and priests (along with their vaccination status).
Some cautious families have arranged visits by health-care workers to guests’ homes to have them tested before they attend a wedding in person. Alternatively, you can celebrate remotely. WeddingWishList has hosted more than 100 weddings in its virtual rooms. And the business opportunity does not end when the last reveller runs out of steam. Ms Subbiah has extended her services to online baby showers. ■
For more expert analysis of the biggest stories in economics, business and markets, sign up to Money Talks, our weekly newsletter.
This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “Updating vows”