Wedding Loot Goes Online
By Jennifer Collins, Special to ABCNEWS.com
As June brides and grooms head to the altar, the wedding Web sites are tying some knots of their own.
Online gift registries are turning out to be the killer app — the real moneymakers — for wedding sites. Couples sign up for gifts at selected stores and post the list online. Friends and family can then cruise the registry and even buy items for the couple over the Net.
Wedding gift registries generate $17 billion a year for retailers, Forrester Research estimates. Eager for a slice of that money, wedding sites are rushing into polygamy with brick-and-mortar retailers and in some case divorcing their existing business models to do so.
Wedding Channel, for example, is making a fundamental shift away from being a direct vendor — selling china, linens and other items — to hosting a single centralized registry for products from multiple stores.
Company President Raj Dhaka says he has registered about 300,000 couples in the last two years. But he’s shifting his business plan because newlyweds prefer name brand products from well-known stores.
Online retailers, Dhaka says, can’t make it without their storefront cousins. “The challenge is to work with the partners in a way that you’re not competing for the customer.”
Della & James, the latest wedding portal to launch, is already creating a stir because it locked up major deals with Gumps, Crate & Barrel, Neiman Marcus and even outdoor outfitter REI.
Other wedding sites such as The Knot or the Wedding Network have similar deals with smaller retailers. The details vary, but Web sites usually get a share of the revenue from the stores.
Grab a Handheld and Shop
Some of these tight alliances with brick-and-mortar vendors are taking a high-tech approach to gift registry.
Denver-based Wedding Network is testing a registry program with kitchenware retailer Sur la Table. The company has installed kiosks in Sur la Table’s San Francisco and Seattle showrooms, complete with Internet access and a souped-up Palm Pilot handheld computers.
To register, couples walk the aisles and scan the product number, capturing the product description and the price into the Palm Pilot. Then the Palm Pilot is returned to a “cradle,” which uploads registration information to the Wedding Network’s registry.
Stephen Cunningham, CEO of Internet Gift Registries, the parent company of Wedding Network, says “the fundamental incentive is that we offer more convenience for engaged couples and their guests.”
For Wedding Network, which pulled in about $500,000 in revenue last year, the Palm Pilot program is an important step in capturing long-term customers. Cunningham says the palm-top registry tool is way to expose customers to the benefits of online purchasing.
While these sites are only capturing a small part of wedding revenues today, online registry companies are betting that in the near future it will be more common to register online than in stores. Top venture capital firms and even Federated Department Stores, which owns 20 percent of Wedding Channel, are investing heavily in the future of Web wedding companies.
“There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that if you have Internet access, that is your default path,” says Kate Delhagen, a Forrester analyst who researches the online wedding market. And for people in college or young couples, she says, online registry “is also the default path.”
Cunningham from the Wedding Network, however, isn’t waiting for the college students to grow up. He’s already planning the next phase — a baby registry.
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