Chennai: M. Kumaraswami, a 28-year-old taxi driver in Chennai, knew whom he didn’t want to marry: his cousin, the girl his family had proposed for him. He had studied till Class X, and she “only till VIII.” He earns Rs.8,500 a month, she didn’t hold a job. “I wanted to marry a girl who was working,” he says.
He found that girl after a 10-month search, S. Dhanalakshmi, a cleaner in a beauty parlour and who too had completed Class X. He identified her through marriage bureau PopularMatrimony, an offshoot of BharatMatrimony.com that’s attempting an organized approach in a society still unfamiliar with match-making on the Internet.
In India, there are 158 million people in the 18 and above marriageable age group, according to a 2011 consumer landscape study done by JuxtConsult, a market research firm. Of them, only 7 million use matrimonial websites to find their partners. The rest still rely on family, friends, priests, bureaus and classified ads when looking for an alliance, according to the study.
Matrimony.com Pvt. Ltd (previously Consim Info Pvt. Ltd), which owns BharatMatrimony.com, launched PopularMatrimony in July as an offline concept to tap the huge population of low-income groups such as drivers and maids, not addressed through its online services.
“We have identified that there is a demand to be serviced among the lower income and lesser educated people. While it is still in early stages of business, there is a great potential in this business,” said Murugavel Janakiraman, founder of Matrimony.com.
“We are talking about a potential market size of about Rs.3,000 crore,” added Atul Narania, business head at PopularMatrimony, pointing out the limitations in the traditional method of relying on touts for matrimonial prospects. “A tout can at best offer four or five choices. Also, apart from charging his usual fee, he also charges a minimum of Rs.5,000 as a success fee.”
Kumaraswami says he was “surprised to find I had many choices” on PopularMatrimony, which in five months has attracted 7,000 profiles across its 17 outlets in Chennai where it is being piloted.
The outlets, which charge a fee of Rs.500 for three months, will bring the advantage of an organized database of profiles that are categorized based on communities. PopularMatrimony hopes to have 50 outlets across Tamil Nadu in the next six months.
The concept has its share of challenges. First, the initiative is capital-intensive as it requires an investment of Rs.3-4 lakh in every outlet. Second, the business model relies on a shift in behaviour.
“For us to become sustainable, there has to be significant attitude shift in this group, where they have to think of PopularMatrimony as a credible option, which can take time. And only if it sees great traction in volumes can we be profitable,” said Narania.
Third, the offline business requires a lot more employees than the online version. Already, the company has hired 100 people for this business and will have to add more as newer outlets come up.
But, according to Narania, “we have a clear first-mover advantage, and we already have the knowledge of how to reach out to a large population, which we can use to tap this population”.
“It is important for online portals to explore such offline models given the very nature of Internet adoption in the country, as it is skewed towards males,” said Mrutyunjay Mishra, founder of JuxtConsult. “In 2011, of the total regular Internet users (of 59 million) 73% were males and 27% were female, and this gender skew itself is a challenge for online (matrimony) portals.”
Murugavel corroborates this fact. Of the total number of profiles in BharatMatrimony.com, 70% are male and 30% are female. This is one of the reasons Matrimony.com has expanded beyond its original offering of language-based portals such as Tamilmatrimony.com. In 2009, it launched Communitymatrimony.com that caters to 350 communities.
The match-making company has also launched portals for people above 40 years, divorcees and those with disabilities. Communitymatrimony.com now has 2.6 million active users, while the 13-year-old portal BharatMatrimony.com has 2 million active users.