In India, wedding gifts is a R2.2 lakh crore business opportunity, yet the online wedding gift market remains fragmented and disorganised
Kanika Subbiah launched a new e-commerce website in Chennai this February; it’s called Wedding Wishlist (www.weddingwishlist.com). “Wedding gifts are an area that’s totally neglected,” declares Subbiah. She has done her research. According to her, there are 1.1 crore weddings conducted in India each year. An average of Rs 2 lakh is spent on gifts at each wedding. The annual spend on wedding gifts in the country, therefore, is Rs 2.2 lakh crore, and half of this is in cash. In fact, as many as 90% of non-cash gifts are wasted. If spent properly, the newly-weds can have a great start at setting up their home.
“Most couples get gifts they do not particularly want. Essentially, gifts are not relevant to the context. Imagine how many photo frames, clocks and tea-sets a couple receive. Over the years, duplicate gifts just get recycled and, in some instances, get junked. The newly-weds may receive expensive gifts such as art, linen or jewellery. But these may not be to their taste. There is a huge gap between gifts received and gifts desired.”
It is precisely to solve this problem for young prospective couples that Subbiah has come up with Wedding Wishlist. “This is a cool new way for the marrying couple to receive the gifts they want, and help family and friends choose gifts that fit their budget.” It is a create-share-receive model. Through Wedding Wishlist, prospective couples can create their personal wedding gift registry, choosing a range of products and experiences—for example, weekend getaways or spa sessions—that appeal to them, and share their registry with family and friends. Unsolicited gifts can be done away with. The couple’s wishlist serves as a guide for the guests who can choose a gift that appeals to them and fits their budget. Group gifting, too, is possible.
“The website is extremely intuitive. For example, you are a prospective bride and you had asked for six wine glasses on your wishlist, and I am your wedding guest and I choose to purchase only three of the six wine glasses you had asked for. When the next guest checks into your wishlist, the website will prompt the guest saying—three wine glasses have been bought, three wine glasses are pending.” This means the guest has a choice of either completing your wishlist of six wine glasses by buying the balance three or alternatively looking for other options that suits the guest’s budget. “Our strong technology platform keeps track of the process end-to-end,” her co-founder and the vice-president of Wedding Wishlist, Sathish Subramanian, says. He studied at the IIT Madras and then at the University of Texas, Austin, and has many years of experience working with technology companies.
In the US, many stores have wedding registries, where the bride and the groom put out a list of presents they would like to receive, and the guests can choose which ones to get. In fact, 89% of all weddings in the US have a registry.
The trend has not quite become popular in India yet, although some upmarket retail outlets do have a wedding registry on their websites.
Subbiah’s first venture in the e-commerce space was a premium and personalised online gifting store. She launched the CherryTin website in June 2013, ahead of the Diwali season. She says she started CherryTin (an allusion to the warmth of cherries and the sturdiness of tin) with a team of 12 because she saw a vacuum in the gifting market.
Born and raised in Chandigarh, Subbiah has a Master’s in Biochemical Engineering from Dartmouth College, US, and an MBA from the University of Chicago. In the US, she worked with consulting firm MicroStrategy and then with children’s clothing retailer Gymboree, launching its online store. She says when she joined Gymboree, the online shopping space in the US was similar to what it is in India now. By the time she left the US, 30% of Gymboree’s sales came from the online space.
She moved back to India in 2008. “I wanted to do something in the online space in India. Gifts appeared to be a good idea. People do not have to spend time and resources on transport. Nor do they have to bother with packing the gifts. Returning and exchanging gifts is not a very pleasant experience. The idea behind CherryTin was to make gift shopping easier and relevant. We also do a lot of personalisation.” CherryTin, which is self-funded, made operating profits in two years. “The website has caught on all over India. The publicity has been word of mouth. We didn’t do any major marketing.”
Wedding Wishlist shares quite a few synergies with CherryTin. “The seed capital for Wedding Wishlist was raised from some of the clients of CherryTin. We will soon go for our first round of funding,” Subbiah, who is married into the Murugappa family, says. Chennai-headquartered Murugappa Group is one of the largest business families in the country. Her husband is Vellayan Subbiah, the managing director of Cholamandalam Finance—the finance company which belongs to the group. She says she has started talking to investors and Wedding Wishlist is not funded by the family.
The online wedding gift market remains fragmented and disorganised. Wedding Wishlist is the first attempt to cater to the growing population of young prospective couples, both of who are working, well-travelled and are exposed to the concept of wedding registries. “Doing things online for weddings is picking up. We already have 24 couples registered with us. There is such a big need for this service and we are totally focused on it,” says Subbiah.