If the thousands of matrimonial sites are any indication, it is becoming more and more difficult finding a soul mate in the conventional way. Not only that, people are even willing to pay to use their services!
26-year-old Archana Mehra spent Rs 1000 on a three-month membership to shaadi.com. Her reasoning: "Since I am at work, 9 am to 9 pm and online during the day, it's the only place where I can meet someone."
The market for matrimonial classifieds in India stands at about Rs 250-300 crores, the market share of online portals being 2-3 per cent. There are about 1500-2000 matrimonial portals vying for a piece of the same pie, with about 20-30 who lead the numbers game.
To cash in on their services, most matrimonial sites have introduced a paid-subscription model including shaadi.com, bharatmatrimony.com and rishtaa.com. While none are willing to reveal figures, they all admit to being "profitable or breaking even within a few months of operation".
Shaadi.com has seen its membership increase by leaps and bounds. Last February, their membership base was close to 1,25,000. Currently they are close to 3,50,000 members logging an average 35 million page views per month. These large numbers reflect a growing number of users who are willing to pay to find a suitable match.
Vishal Lamba of rishtaa.com, which has about 35,000 active members, explains: "While you are free to register on the site, if you want somebody's email, you have to become a paid member."
Almost all sites offer different variations of the free and paid package. For instance, jeevansaathi.com that went paid in August last year offers a first 30-day free trial. They have 3 different kinds of membership.
Shaadi.com, which began in Oct 1997, offers a range of memberships from gold, diamond to platinum. Says Vandana, the official spokesperson of the site, "We also supplement our services with several promotions from time to time. Recently, we offered a free 2 night/3 days holiday package at Ooty/Kodaikanal for our premium members."
Most sites have started organising offline activities to encourage registrations. For instance, rishtaa.com hosts regular events where they invite selected members. Explains Lamba, "Once we had a get-together for Gujaratis only, then one for Mumbai-ites and so on."
Rishtaa.com has a section dedicated to the physically and mentally challenged and regularly organises matchmaking events. One such event held at Spastics Society of India, Bandra was hosted by Poonam Dhillon and attended by over a few hundred handicapped people. According to them, a match was made at the meeting itself and many more were made later.
Matrimonial site owners believe that with their services the value is very tangible. One can very easily evaluate a matrimonial service and assess the likelihood of meeting someone based on a few quick searches. Also, their services (unlike news and email) fulfill a deep psychological and social need for a life-partner. Users are therefore more willing to pay.
According to Amit Tandon, director of jeevansaathi.com, online ads have several advantages over print classifieds including ease of use and the ability to search a large database. NRIs find it a convenient route to find partners from India. Says Tandon: "Searching for a partner and short-listing becomes easy, which is why more people are turning to the Net. Also, when you are looking for a partner, price is not such an important factor!"
Privacy, according to Vandana, is another important factor. "With online matchmaking, one can choose to maintain their anonymity until they are comfortable with someone."
According to Lamba and the others, though both Indians and NRIs are equal users of matrimonial databases, it is the latter who are most likely to convert into paid members. "But more people have now begun to use the medium especially younger net savvy Indians," he adds.
Canada-based Rahil Merchant found his match Maggi from Delhi on shaadi.com. He says, "I have visited, registered and tried out all kinds of Web sites. There are literally hundreds of them operating here in North America, not counting the ones in Europe or elsewhere."
According to Merchant, people who register are serious about finding their life partner do not want to waste time playing and chatting. "Also for the price, a lousy $25 for 3 months, we can find someone we have been looking for all our lives. If there is any one site I would recommend to my friends here, it would be this one for the sheer value for money," he says.