While probably not one’s first association when it comes to the word “romance,” the holiday season is, in at least one important aspect, all about the love. Because while people get engaged all year long, the holidays are a disproportionately popular time for proposals. According to data, about 18 percent of all engagements happen in the month of December, and four out of the top five engagement dates in the year are during the holiday season. Only Valentine’s Day manages to crack the top five – it gets the No. 2 spot after Christmas Day, followed by Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
And while the “when” of engagements – in terms of the time of year when they begin – has actually been fairly consistent in the U.S. for some time, getting engaged these days is very different than it was even a generation ago.
“When you think about millennial couples today, they are unlike any previous generation. They’re getting married at a much older age than ever before,” said Shan-Lyn Ma, CEO of registry platform Zola. “They tend to live together before they get married. They live on their mobile devices. These things mean that what they want from a registry and planning a wedding are fundamentally different than anything else out there.”
Zola’s digital upgrade to the wedding registry substitutes the old model – where consumers would register at a specific store and direct their wedding guests to that store’s physical location and website – to one where couples compile and personalize registries by selecting from a range of brands on mobile, and then direct their gusts to Zola, where they can buy directly through the platform.
Ma noted in an interview that the firm’s most important innovation is that its underlying technology platform easily integrates online assortments from new brands. Currently, Zola’s registry has about 60,000 products on offer from 600 brands. Apart from selection, Zola also claims its ability to pull and analyze consumer data is critical to building the right user experience and forecasting future sales.
And though Zola started out in the registry business, the firm’s goal is more expansive. According to Ma, the firm aims to become an entire ecosystem of wedding planning needs. To that end, Zola launched a paper-based save the date and invitations business, allowing customers to customize cards and upload photographs.
Their next big jump forward will be into physical retail, with Zola’s first brick-and-mortar store set to be up and running in New York City next year. The temporary store, which will run from Jan. 3 to April 15, is an exploration of how the brand could continue to broaden its horizons, and doesn’t represent a change in how Zola thinks of its business. Their intention is to remain a digitally centered brand.
“We’re not in the business of opening 200 stores, but we’ll really get a sense of how it benefits us in terms of awareness and education for the couples,” Ma explained at an industry event. “We’ll consider a few more cities.”
Pop-ups aren’t entirely new to Zola: The firm experimented in the past with seasonal pop-ups and partnerships with specialty big-box retailers like Crate & Barrel. But what will be opening for the 2019 wedding planning season, Ma noted, will be quite a bit beyond their previous offerings.
“It’s going to be a unique shopping experience,” Ma said. “It will be the first time you can go into a single location and see 2,000 of our most popular wedding registry gifts and products and create your own wedding websites. We have a 3D printer where you can print your own cake toppers. You can plan your wedding as you want, all within an hour.”
Zola thus far has brought in roughly $140 million in venture capital funding, the lion’s share of which came in earlier this year in a $100 million Series D round. As of today, permanent stores aren’t part of the expansion plan, though seasonal pop-ups certainly are.
“We see 45 percent of engagements happen between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, and once people get engaged, they start going online to plan their wedding,” Ma noted. “We want to be there when they sign on and help get them through that journey, because it’s a big deal in consumers’ lives, and we think we can make it go a lot more smoothly and enjoyably.”
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