US: Getting hitched and the online wedding planner

To cope with the stress of recent events, smoking, drinking and church-going have increased in the US – and the wedding industry is booming.

An average of 2.4 million weddings take place in the US annually, with the average spend on the big day working out at $20,000 (&£13,800). The US national wedding industry is now estimated to be worth about $70bn (&£48.4bn) each year, so it’s hardly surprising that suppliers are wanting to get their slice of this cake. Wedding websites, such as Theknot.com and Weddingchannel.com, are doing good business supplying happy couples and wedding guests with everything they could possibly want for the big day – and a lot more besides.

Despite depressed sales of luxury goods overall, Cartier in the US has noted that the one key sector proving resilient is the engagement ring market. Tiffany & Co – once thought to be recession proof – is discovering that it is not immune to downturns, especially as its flagship New York store accounts for 12 per cent of sales, but again the engagement ring market remains solid. Diamonds may well be a girl’s best friend, but a boy’s best friend for buying them is now the worldwide Web. According to Cartier, men apparently prefer to do their diamond research online and, while some then go to the store to buy them, many buy online using sites such as BlueNile.com.

Earlier this year, Condé Nast, often criticised in the past for its apparent lack of a Web strategy, announced that it would be spending $18m (&£12.4m) to promote an alliance between its Brides Magazine and website Weddingchannel.com. The deal unites the top US bridal print magazine, based on circulation, with the category’s biggest site, based on audience. It also leaves Brides and Weddingchannel with numerous joint marketing opportunities and packages to offer to advertisers who are keen to profit from this lucrative market. One key attraction in the deal is that Weddingchannel.com has exclusive bridal gift relationships with high-class department stores such as Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.

So why is the wedding market so lucrative, especially in the US? According to The Knot chief executive David Liu people who are about to get married are, “in a high-spending, acquisitive mode, and a brand-allegiance mode.” People want everything to be perfect on their big day and this is no time to cut corners with cheaper brands – they want the very best. Yet there is still room for convenience, as demonstrated by the popularity of the online bridal sites. “The Internet has proven itself a viable source for wedding planning tools and, very specifically, for gift registries,” says Brides publisher Nina Lawrence. “We help our readers with information about where they can shop and book a honeymoon online.”

The ailing travel and tourism sector should be able to take some comfort at least from the increase in weddings, as 99 per cent of those choosing a traditional wedding also take a honeymoon on which they spend an average of $4,000 (&£2,760) each – three times the standard holiday expenditure. The “romantic travel” industry in the US is estimated to be worth $4bn (&£2.76bn) a year and the sheer size of the US also means that many guests need to fly to get to weddings. Tour operators and airlines will certainly be hoping that romance continues to flourish and marriage stays in fashion for a while.

While the UK online wedding market is not quite as developed as that of the US, it is growing. Each year 300,000 weddings taking place in the UK at an average cost of &£14,000. David Lethbridge, co-founder of UK wedding site Confetti.co.uk, notes that the wedding market in the UK has significantly grown in size since the venue laws for marriages were relaxed three years ago. Also contributing to the growth in the wedding industry is the fact that couples are getting married later in life and covering more of the costs themselves. In such a fragmented market, websites that bring all the elements of planning a wedding together can certainly make things more efficient and relieve stress for the couple. Wedding lists often turn out to be a particular source of anxiety for newlyweds. As Lethbridge points out: “We are certainly benefiting from the fact that most UK department stores have very poor customer service when it comes to wedding lists – it’s just too much of a departure from their core business.”

The range of goods and services related to the wedding sector is vast. Most of the money is actually spent in the local area of the wedding, so the sites put them in touch with local suppliers of everything from photographers to caterers to musicians. You can even apply for a loan to cover the cost of your wedding (you’ll probably need it) and buy wedding insurance from WedSafe. This promises to cover you for “disasters” such as a closed beauty parlour, your photographer losing the films – or even a hurricane. Unfortunately most policies do not pay out in the event of either the bride or groom getting cold feet.

It seems that for now at least, getting married is back in fashion in the US. The Net will become many couples closest ally in this high-spending, high brand-loyalty time of their lives and with the multitude of goods and services on offer, it will certainly see them right through from richer to poorer.

Polly Devaney is a former Unilever executive who is now working as a freelance writer

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