Marriage as a social institution is on the rocks. For the first time in history, there are more single adults than married Americans: some 124.6 million single adults. By comparison, in 1960 over 70 percent of Americans were married.
Young couples today are just not buying into marriage like they used to. Despite the fact that the millennial generation is the largest in history (73 million strong in 2019 and aged 23-to-38) and reaching the age when people historically have settled down into married life, the rate of marriage is declining rather than rising. It stands at 6.9 marriages per 1,000 people in 2016 down from 8.2 in 2000. While much of the blame is laid to millennials delaying marriage until later in life, now 29.5 years for men and 27.4 years for women, still the sheer size of the millennial generation should be bolstering the estimated $100 billion wedding economy, despite the lag in age of marriage.
Among the reasons why millennials are not adopting the married model is that one, the rising cost of having one has put a wedding beyond many people’s budget (estimated to cost between $27,000 to $44,000 according to the latest Brides 2018 American Wedding Study); and two, marriage traditions are going by the wayside. Millennial couples are saying “I don’t” to so many of the age-old traditions that their older siblings, parents and grandparents thought important.
Registry by Another Name
Take the tradition of bridal gift registries, where brides most often went to the local department stores with their mothers to register for china, crystal, silverware and other things needed to set up the couple in a home of their own. But millennial couples say, “Who needs all that stuff?” with 84 percent of them already living together and presumably being able to eat off something other than paper plates.
Zola, that started life as an online wedding registry in 2013, is bringing those old analog wedding traditions into the digital age. At the start is was the first online registry that allowed couples to register not just for gifts, but for experiences and cash gifts as well. And rather than have to maintain multiple registries from different stores, like bedding and cookware from Bed Bath and Beyond and tabletop from Macy’s, Zola also allowed couples to select gifts from a wide range of stores or even a AirBnb or Hotels.com experience all in one place.
Convenience for the bridal couple was its initial appeal, as it also allowed couples to choose where and when their gifts were shipped or even if they were sent at all. With flexibility top of mind, once the bridal couple sees the final takings, they can cash it all in and put the credit towards one bang-up honeymoon or anything else on the Zola registry they decide they want.
It’s a way for couples to “game the system,” registering for stuff they may not ever intend to accept but that gift givers might be more comfortable buying, like dinnerware, instead of what the couple really wants, a trip to the Maldives. Not only is this something a traditional gift registry can’t do, but it takes the heavy lifting out of receiving and opening packages, only to have to box them up again and slog them back to the store. And the opportunity Zola gives couples to put all the chips into something else is even better.
Thinking the gift registry through in this way all from the couple’s perspective is what made Zola’s gift registry so successful. Now it is turning that same unconventional thinking to another pain point for couples: the wedding planning process.
From Gift Registry to Wedding Planning
Branded as “The Home of All Things Wedding,” and with a tagline of “the wedding company that will do anything for love,” Zola expanded from being gift registry to a complete wedding planning service in 2017. It became the place where couples could build their own wedding websites, compile guest lists to send custom invitations and save the date notices, track RSVPs and otherwise keep checklists to manage the numerous details up to the happy day.
“Our vision is to take the stress out of wedding planning by making the entire process easy for Zola couples and their guests,” said CEO Shan-Lyn Ma. “Now couples really can plan their entire wedding day in one place, all on Zola.”
Crate and Barrel Is the Most Requested Bridal Brand
With over 60,000 gifts and honeymoon experiences readily available on the Zola gift registry site from over 500 brands, from the practical like Cuisinart and Le Creuset to the latest sound systems from Sonos and Airbnb honeymoon experiences, Zola has long offered an “add to Zola button” for couples to select gifts from anywhere on the internet.
After years of finding Crate and Barrel the top brand externally added to Zola registries, it recently inked a collaboration to offer over 3,5000 of its exclusively-designed products on Zola. This makes Crate and Barrel Zola’s largest retail partner and helps it expand its reach into the bridal market.
“Our couples are dedicated to us because we deliver what they want. They told us they wanted to register for Crate and Barrel dinnerware alongside their KitchenAid stand mixer and honeymoon fund all on Zola. Now they can,” Ma said.
Crate and Barrel will continue to offer its in-house registry service, but through Zola, it gets another avenue to reach new customers and build lifelong loyalty to the brand.
Crossing Over from Digital to the Real World in NYC
The next step in Zola’s evolution to do anything for love has come to life in the Flatiron District of New York City in a pop-up shop open through April, which is when the company’s data shows wedding planning ends and wedding season begins.
“We translated everything our couples already love about us, including our easy-to-use planning tools, our curated gift selection, and our outstanding customer service, into a wedding planning destination unlike anything couples have ever seen,” Ma said.
The idea is to give couples hands-on help planning the most important day of their lives. In the store they can meet an advisor for one-on-one planning and help customizing their websites, invitations and the many behind-the-scenes support tools offered. They can also see and touch over 2,000 of the top-selling gifts from Zola’s registry.
A unique offering at the Zola shop is the ability for couples to design their own cake topper with replicas of themselves that are printed in 3D by Doob. Plus, every Zola in-store sales associate is ordained, so the actual wedding can take place right in the store, designed to look like a modern home.
Evolving Wedding Traditions to the Digital Age
With an MBA from Stanford and previous experience at Yahoo and Gilt, co-founder Shan-Lyn Ma has been on the forefront of the digital revolution. With Zola she is applying her digital expertise to an old-fashioned industry ripe for disruption.
The initial appeal of the wedding market to Ma was her recognition that weddings are “inherently viral,” and that wedding couples will connect with people like them on Zola, who will then turn to it for their own wedding plans. She affirms that personal recommendations have been the biggest driver of growth for the company.
The core idea of Zola was to help couples use their registry not just as a wish list of gift ideas, but a way to navigate the entire wedding process. With a total of $140 million in VC funding, Zola is poised to disrupt the traditional wedding market with tools that will make planning their increasingly complicated wedding easier. While many companies including The Knot or Wedding Wire provide content, local vendor lists, and free websites and others such as Wedding Happy and Wedding Countdown offer checklists and organizational tools, only Zola has tied all the disparate pieces of the wedding planning process together into a single one-stop solution.