E-Matrimony Projected To Scale New Heights In India

Digital Journal, May 14, 2009.

According to the projections of EmPower Research, a U.S.-based business research firm, a worldwide recession notwithstanding, the online matrimony market in India is poised to grow in the next few years, with revenue expected to climb to $63 million and user registration to touch 21 million by 2011.

Shaadi.com, India’s leading matrimony Web site, currently has a subscriber pool roughly the size of the population of Ecuador—14.1 million—and receives in excess of 200 million page views per month.

Back in the mid-1990s, at a time when more and more Indian households were gaining Internet connectivity at relatively affordable prices, companies such as Shaadi.com arrived on the scene with an exciting new promise.

It provided individuals and their parents with a vast catalog of prospective matches, which they could access from the easy convenience of a computer terminal and for fairly nominal fees.

Even as Shaadi.com was encouraging scores of young men and women, seeking long-term partnerships, to create their online profiles, alongside, it was also developing a whole new market segment: that of e-matchmaking.

From a start-up in 1997, Shaadi.com has grown by leaps and bounds, recording a robust growth rate of 200 percent each year since.

Motivated in part, by the rip-roaring success of the online venture and in part, by a desire to tap into the vast, but hitherto unexplored reservoir of those untouched by the Internet revolution, in 2004, it launched Shaadi.com Center, a storefront version of the site.

Today, a network of 100 marriage bureau-style outlets, spread across 87 cities, caters to the digitally disenfranchised, offering everything from a streamlined search for a bride or a groom to the placing of a newspaper classified to drawing up the details of a wedding plan.

In an interview with Fortune magazine, Shaadi.com co-founder and C.E.O. Anupam Mittal estimated the size of the fragmented and unstructured Indian matrimony market at close to $20 billion, of which the matchmaking component alone stood at $300 million.

Sensing the potential for growth, over the years, others players too, have climbed on the e-matrimony gravy train.

Jeevansathi—an independent enterprise acquired by the Indian online classifieds portal, Info Edge, in 2004—is targeted at Indians in the country’s northern and western regions, its Hindi-speaking belt.

The site claims that it’s the nation’s third-ranked matrimony Web site, with nearly 2.5 millions registrants and 14 brick-and-mortar centers.

BharatMatrimony, which advertises itself as a “regional” matrimony site, is geared primarily toward the southern Indian communities. It started out in the U.S. in the late 1990s and is headquartered in Chennai.

So, has the Internet killed the age-old custom of arranged marriage in India?

Rochona Majumdar, professor of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago and author of “Marriage and Modernity: Family Values in Colonial Bengal,” said that the onslaught of modernization hasn’t eroded the institution of arranged marriage.

It’s merely brought about its evolution. While in colonial India, marriages were brokered by highly-respected individuals, who were at once, “matchmakers and social historians with intimate knowledge of family genealogies,” in the modern era, it’s being arranged by virtual matchmakers.

Some obvious differences, however, are that the latter possess no “social memory” and aren’t known to extort clients as their human counterparts often did in the past.

Unlike them, these portals may not enjoy an exalted social status, but they have a much higher success rate as marriage mediators, which makes them commercial heavyweights.

Away from the smog of drop-down menus and the forest of clickable options, some entrepreneurs in the U.S. are quietly launching a still newer format of matchmaking, modeled on the corporate structure.

A marriage (no pun intended) of the traditional Indian matchmaker and a high-end legal firm, Intersections Matchmaking offers personalized, one-on-one matchmaking services to “elite” South Asian singles in the U.S.

Founded in 2007 by Jasbina Ahluwalia—a former lawyer and now a certified matchmaker—it aims to readjust the focus of arranged marriages, by turning it away from the family toward the individual.

“It’s my understanding that matchmaking on the subcontinent has traditionally been undertaken by one’s family, in conjunction with the family’s extended relatives, social circles, and perhaps, priests [and has] been based, largely, on the perceived compatibility of the families rather than of two individuals,” wrote Ahluwalia in an e-mail response.

Quick to differentiate it from matrimony Web sites, she added that her company isn’t an electronic database of matches.

“We’re not an online service. Before a client meets any matches, I get to know his or her needs, personality, and background via an extensive personal consultation,” she added.

It’s at the first step—a two-hour, $375 “personal consultation” that can take place either over the phone or a video-conferencing facility—that Ahluwalia decides whether or not to sign up a client.

If she does—only after running a thorough criminal background check—the client graduates to the next stage, wherein she introduces him or her to the other singles. Nationwide, “scouts” attend social events, keeping an eye peeled for smart, sociable, single professionals.

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