Inside the booming online wedding registry industry
Gone are the days of fine china and linens. Today's couples want a whole new registry experience.
Get ready: Not only are we entering the holiday season, but we're also coming up on the "engagement season."
One important element of wedding planning is creating a wedding registry. But gone are the days of simply registering for some fine china and linens and moving into your happy home.
A lot of couples today, especially millennial couples, are getting married at an older age, which means they probably already live together and own many of the items found on traditional wedding registries. And many couples are looking to own less stuff and simply get more out of their life together. But as couples have evolved, so has the online wedding registry industry.
This shift began in earnest back in 2006, with the launch of a company called Honeyfund. The platform allowed couples to create a registry for their honeymoon. CEO and founder Sara Margulis and her husband Josh Margulis created Honeyfund after making a simple honeymoon wish-list for their own wedding and receiving more than $5,000 from their guests. "We had heard about honeymoon registry but we didn't really find a site that was doing it well at the time. The services available were through travel agencies who were charging a 9 percent fee."
Honeyfund grew organically, and today is one of the top seven registries in the country. "Something like 40 percent of couples are registering for their honeymoon, and that was maybe only about 5 percent when we started Honeyfund, so over 10 years that's a lot of growth," says Sara.
"Wedding gift-giving is in the palm of your hand and you can do it anywhere, any time," Sara says. "Walking into a retail store, printing out the paper, walking around the store to hunt down a gift, having it gift wrapped. None of that is necessary anymore."
Zola, another fast-growing wedding registry website, offers all the traditional wedding gifts you'd find at a store — some 50,000 items from over 600 brands — but also allows couples to register for experiences like Airbnb stays, SoulCycle passes, or Blue Apron deliveries, as well as cash registry options for a honeymoon or home repairs.
CEO and founder Shan-lyn Ma created the company out of personal frustration. "It was the year that many of us have, which is the year all my friends got married at exactly the same time," she says. "I had to buy a lot of wedding gifts off a lot of wedding registries and was really appalled at what a terrible e-commerce shopping experience it was."
She knew there had to be a better way. So she did some detailed research. "Couples today want to personalize everything to do with their wedding including their registry," she says. "They don't want it to feel like a cold, transactional checkout cart. We let couples fully personalize their registry by adding photos and explaining why they are registering for certain things."
Another frustration for couples that Zola found had to do with the delivery of gifts. "Traditional registries just send gifts to the couple as guests purchased them and they were just showing up on the doorstep, sometimes while they are away on honeymoon. At Zola, we thought, let's give couples full control over their gifts so that we don't ship anything to the couple until they confirm they are ready to receive it." It's a simple shift in the process, Ma says, but a huge problem solver.
Since launching four years ago, some 500,000 couples have used Zola.
Perhaps the biggest shift in the industry is that many consumers are wanting to spend more money on experiences as opposed to material stuff. VEBO, founded just three years ago, seeks to cater to that audience. It allows couples to create a registry of experiences, from outdoorsy adventures and cultural outings to foodie events and fitness classes. VEBO registries also offer couples the opportunity to select a charity partner that receives a 5 percent donation from each of their registry purchases.
"We do get feedback that it is so much more fulfilling for a guest to be able to give them something meaningful," says VEBO founder and CEO Cody Sudmeier. "But for the couples the idea is fill the first couple years of your marriage with a lot of really great date nights. What the couples are telling us is that it's really setting the tone for their marriage, that they are going to live in a way that really values their shared time together and shared experiences and learning something new."
The wedding registry is even starting to go local. Business partners Kaitlin Byers and Tallis Strub recently launched MarryMyCity, a registry startup based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that allows couples to register with local small businesses.
"It's about buying less stuff and tying gift-giving back to the community," says Strub.
The duo piloted the idea with Byers' wedding in 2016. "It was a big wedding and we put our idea up against a big-name online retailer's registry and a national boutique retailer's registry," says Strub. "Everything on the MarryMyCity registry sold out immediately and guests were requesting that Kaitlin and her fiancé add more to it. We really felt like our idea was validated."
"MarryMyCity is great because couples can support their favorite local vendors while receiving something meaningful from their wedding guests," Byers says.
So far MarryMyCity has worked with about a dozen couples in their early launch phase. The company plans to expand in other Iowa cities and then roll out across the Midwest.
"The couples coming to us are looking to create a full life and are shifting towards minimalism and investing in experiences," says Byers. "So it's fascinating that for such a large industry as the gifting industry, that it's taking so long to catch up to that cultural shift."