What was described as a recession-proof industry by Forbes, hasn’t proved to be a pandemic proof industry. The Wedding industry, which was estimated to be worth 50 billion dollars in India, was badly hit by COVID-19 in the past year. According to an estimate by hospitality firm OYO weddingz, the volume of wedding events in 2020 was at 40-50 per cent compared to the number in the previous year and guest lists shrunk by 60 per cent due to COVID-19 restrictions. Several brides and grooms who dreamt of a “big fat wedding” had to make peace with the imposed restrictions, while others cancelled their weddings in the hope of things becoming better. India in particular saw the highest cancellation of wedding globally with 23% couples cancelling or postponing the celebration. However, some couples found innovative ways to cope up with the pandemic —Zoom weddings!
“When I decided to tie the knot with my partner, I imagined that at the very least, my family and friends would be able to attend.” Spardha, 29, who got married in the month of October 2020 said as she added “deciding to get married on a Zoom Call wasn’t an easy decision, however, if anything, COVID taught us to expect the unexpected and take charge.” Several couples like them made the decision to broadcast their wedding for the friends and families who couldn’t join. They also participated in several firsts — a wedding without event planners and baraat, no large gatherings or a fancy venue or what Dilli waale would call ‘show-shaa.’ As we mark a year since the lockdown was announced, it becomes pertinent to ask then, will COVID-19 leave a lasting impression on how we plan, attend and celebrate weddings in India? What stands to be the future of the wedding industry?
There is no way to predict the future and whether weddings as we know them will permanently change. However, consumer and behavioural research can offer some insight in this matter. Consumer behaviour is contingent upon several factors such as time, place, location and culture with exposure of a consumer playing a major role. With the onset of pandemic, it is disrupting patterns of how the consumers would traditionally buy or engage in experiences by offering new exposure to those migrating to virtual environments. Behaviour and habit changes have a direct correlation to the extent of exposure to new environments. Research proves that it takes anywhere between 18 to 254 days to form a new habit, while on average it takes about 66 days. As the study by Swiss Re Institute shows consumers are settling into new patterns of behaviour for considerable lengths of time as a response to multiple waves of pandemic. Therefore, it’s quite likely that people will continue relying on technology to facilitate their wedding as the momentum to shift to technology for organising weddings was building up even prior to the pandemic.
The wedding industry also rapidly adapted and transformed to meet the needs of the consumers who were and continue organising online weddings in the light of pandemic. For instance, matrimonial sites have been introducing new features to account for the lack of a physical meet-and-greet. Jeevansaathi.com now has a video profile feature while Shaadi.com launched a special app for video calling purposes called, ShaadiMeet. The company is also organising virtual social get-togethers for its users for the first time. Both Shaadi.com and Bharat Matrimony have also launched their initiatives, ‘Weddings from Home’ and ‘Home Weddings’ respectively to offer end-to-end services to customers to facilitate marriages over videos. What seemed far from truth has become possible as the wedding industry scrambles to adapt to the challenging circumstances.
Of course, one can’t help but lament what will be lost if weddings start happening online with an intimate gathering. The sound of loud dhol blasting in your ear, the tangy taste of gol gappas, awkward smiling as the photographer clicks your pictures while eating the messiest foods; the hugging, talking, and gossiping, gets missed by the guests attending online. Without these experiences, attending weddings online seems more of an obligation than an experience that one looks forward to. However, considering the social relevance that weddings hold in Indian society, it is unlikely that people will change their consumption pattern as quickly as their other items in the consumption basket. In fact, an ongoing consumer sentiment analysis study by McKinsey and Co. reveals that in China and India, spending is bouncing back beyond grocery and household supplies, and consumers in India might be more willing to spend on certain categories such as festivals and weddings. If it so happens, then once again, it will be reiterated that the big-fat Indian weddings aren’t so easy to do away with, and while pandemic might be a hiccup, it cannot efface the socio-cultural significance of weddings in India.
Ridhima Manocha is a final year English and Media Studies student at Ashoka University and has authored the book, The Sun and Shadow.
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