Is the register ringing for wedding gift Registries.
Of all the trends that have trickled down from the West toward the Indian subcontinent, arguably wedding gift registries have taken the longest. It may come as a shock to people in the Western world to learn that in India’s multi-billion dollar wedding industry, where the costs of weddings can range anywhere from 5 lakhs to Rs 5 crores ($9,000 to $900,000), a typical Indian couple still feels shy about asking for a gift from guests.
Nearly 10 million weddings take place in India every year. According to industry estimates, the Indian wedding market is worth $40 billion and the sector is growing at over 25 per cent annually. While the industry servicing these weddings is highly fragmented and specialized, from entertainers to florists to caterers, planners and decorators, the wedding gifting space has remained unattended.
Inspired by these encouraging figures, a number of new age entrepreneurs are looking to remodel the gift giving system at Indian weddings. They reckon that the market is substantial and there is considerable potential to channelize the demand for wedding gifts coherently.
Like the etiquette of other cultures, a wedding invitation in India entails an expectation that guests will bring a gift for the couple, even when they may not attend the function. However, the idea of making a specific ask to signal a couples’ preference is very discomforting in the Indian context.
American reality TV star Kim Kardashian may have drawn up a whopping registry of $172,000 worth of items (including a salad spoon for $800) for her marriage to Kris Humphries in 2009 that lasted all of 72 days. By contrast, in India some of the most historically extravagant weddings have had no gift registries at all.
Sociologists attribute this to the Indian culture of hospitality. Innately we are all brought up with the notion that asking a guest for a preferred present is almost as taboo as bringing your goat to graze on your neighbor’s grass.
However, a new wave of entrepreneurs, out to streamline one of the country’s oldest institutions, is hopeful, the idea will appeal. Sudha Maheshwari, founder of ForMyShaadi.com, the first of its kind wedding gift registry website in India, launched in February this year, says: “The objective was to provide new couples with the opportunity to select and share with their guests and convey what they would actually like as wedding gifts.”
Although no couple enjoys the idea of sifting through a mound of unnecessary, pass-off items as wedding gifts, traditionally the concept hasn’t enjoyed easy acceptance for those getting married in India. Marriage counselor Rachna Singh says, “It is definitely easier and practical for new-age couples who are thankfully not relying on their parents’ financial assistance to do up their new homes. The idea to get mainstream, however, would require an entire jolting of how shaadis are planned in India.”
But for those in the trade, the growing numbers are a tip-off, signaling that the idea may work. ForMyShaadi.com in its first wedding season in India is already looking at catering to over a 100 couples with registries.
Among these other services include Indiagiftregistry.com and ShareUrJoy.com, which cater to gifts for every occasion, ranging from weddings to baby showers. Sumit Handa, wedprenuer and founder of AppilyEver.com, a wedding planning app, says, “With the emergence of pop culture and selective taste, urban India is ready to accept what is convenient and practical for them.”
The entrepreneurs have taken note of cultural Indian nuances and have modified the service. Maheshwari says, “Unlike the West, where the general trend is that the couple will be setting up their own house, so they invariably look for home items, in India it’s not uncommon that a couple would be moving in a joint family setup, hence we have included experiential gifts, such as jewelry, dinner vouchers, spa and gym memberships, etc.”
At most websites the process begins with a couple registering for the service, which includes a comprehensive catalogue of products, ranging from holidays to home décor. The couples pick their choices and include details of their registry on their wedsite or invitation. ForMyShaadi.com offers a chip-in functionality, which enables couples to categorize high value gifts (above Rs 10,000, or about $150) as chip-in products that two or more guests can contribute toward. The gifts are aggregated at the company warehouse, wrapped and delivered to the couple on a chosen date.
Ankit and Alison Pratt, a couple from Chicago, Ill., used the Indian registry for their reception in India in mid-July. Alison said: “Since Ankit is from India, we wanted to plan a reception in Delhi shortly after our wedding in U.S., where we used Zola for our registry. With 200-300 invitations going out, we were worried about how we would manage the gifts that we would be receiving — cash is difficult to convert and most gifts would be too bulky to fit in our luggage.
“That’s when we heard about For My Shaadi. We immediately created our registry while sitting in the U.S., added gifts that were not just practical, but also easy to carry. We sent out the details of our registry with the invitation cards and are now overjoyed with the fact that we have a whole lot of really cool stuff to take back with us.”
She says roughly 40 of the 100 couples who attended their wedding opted to gift from the registry, while the rest carried a traditional gift with them to the reception.
On the skepticism of not just the couples, but also guests, to the idea of registries in India, Maheshwari says: “For this NRI wedding, we saw everyone from their professional friends to their relatives based in old parts of Delhi, such as Chandni Chowk, who are not yet comfortable with e-commerce, going ahead and choosing their preferred gifts. This does suggest that people are open to try it.”
But unlike Europe or America, where a wedsite is de riguer, in India most invites are still handed and followed up the traditional way. Also, most wedding parties are so large that it’s difficult to coordinate gifts and their availability for everyone.
Even in the West, not all Indian marriages have registries. Often the invites say “no boxed gifts,” suggesting that the couples prefer money instead. But for most, despite the convenience of choosing and receiving the gifts of their choice, the idea of asking gets the goat.
Those involved in the registry services say that the problem is in the perception. They insist that it simplifies the process for everyone. If a couple is open about their needs and likes, friends and family no longer need to second-guess. Often, close friends put in a lot of thought in gifting something nice, but it may not match the couple’s tastes or even end up getting duplicated.
Although Indians may take time to warm up to the idea of gift registries, couples in the West have already moved a step ahead to new forms of gifting. Honeyfunds, or an experiential gift that friends can contribute toward so that the marrying couple can have a memorable (read free) honeymoon, is one new trend.
However, Srishti Sharm, who is about to tie the knot next year, calls herself a wedding etiquette conservative: “It’s a personal choice, but I do not want my invite to look like an admission ticket, where whosoever chooses to attend has to bring me what I want.”
Critics of the trend blame India’s startup culture, which is promoting even impractical ideas. But Maheshwari opines that gift registries are not an alien, but a modern trend. She says, “The average Indian couple today is older, more educated and confident than they were 10 years ago. Most wedding preparations are no longer undertaken by the parents, but by the couples themselves.”
It might seem obvious that newlywed couples would prefer to set up their place with mementos that make them happy rather than vases and flasks that remind them how randomly the guests picked what they assumed may work for them.
However, before the trend acquires popularity, it has to overcome a major bottleneck. Unless couples create wedsites it will be difficult to inform guests of their preferences. In a country where even a mailed RSVP is not taken seriously that may be a tall order.
But then who would have thought Indians would take so quickly to online shopping, sharing rides with strangers, or even ordering home delivery of veggies?