“We wanted a way to show what we were planning on purchasing in the future for people who prefer to give cash,” said Julie Jenkins, a 30-something teacher in Charleston, SC, who just tied the knot right before ringing in the new year. “That way [friends and family] knew we wanted to purchase a home.”
Jenkins chose Zola, the online bridal registry platform that provides brides and grooms with the opportunity to pick and choose from more than 35,000 products, while also accepting cash for more than 300 experiences together, such as cooking classes. Zola’s direct-to-consumer model touts the lowest fee in the industry for cash funds and highlights group gifting, digital exchanges and even an online gift tracker.
In the U.S., in 2015, there were 2,172,503 weddings, with the average special day costing $26,645. Given that the majority of those special days are centered around a union between two millennials, many of them — secretly or not — would like some kind of gift.
“There is a big shift towards a universal registry,” said Shan-Lyn Ma, CEO and founder of Zola. She said that, because millennials are getting married later, they’ve already lived with their significant other and thus are looking for an expanded breadth of items and experiences for their registry. “They are craving a more personal experience than what they can find in a department store. Couples do want upgraded sheets and towels, but they also want experiences they can share together and money towards their future.”
Ma said the idea for Zola sparked when she was attending a slew of friends’ weddings and — admittedly — was uninspired by their registries.
“I saw that my friends were registering for impersonal gifts at places they rarely shopped. It was challenging as a guest to purchase something meaningful,” said Ma, who previously worked in product management at startups like Gilt Groupe and Chloe + Isabel. Ma founded Zola in 2013 with Nobu Nakaguchi. “The core premise of Zola as a universal registry came from conversations with couples who were either recently married or going through the process.”
Ultimately, Ma said marriage was completely different 50 years ago, so wedding gifts played a very different role: “Couples were younger. They didn’t necessarily live together. Same-sex marriage wasn’t even legal. Online shopping also didn’t exist. The way we live and shop has totally changed.”
She said Zola boils down to registering for the things that the couple really wants, and that they should not be limited to what’s on the shelves of one store — which is what previous generations — namely baby boomers — have experienced.
And that generation gap becomes more obvious when innately digital millennials are planning a wedding with their baby boomer parents.
“My mom was at first like ‘I don’t know, it seems weird.’ And even my husband thought it would seem like we were begging for money because it showed our goal of $5,000 for a house,” said Jenkins. “And I explained to them that I think people would rather know where their money was going toward rather than just handing you money you might use just to go drink at a bar.”
Indeed, they did register for a three-month wine club and gift certificates for date nights, but they also registered for contributions to a couch, a patio set and — the biggest one — a down payment for a home sweet home.
“I started to create my account by logging in with my Facebook [account] and then was able to add my fiancé to the app as well!” St. Louis-based Caleb-Michael Files said, who is marrying his fiancé Gerardo Martinez Cardiel next month and just signed up for Zola after seeing a targeted Facebook post. He added that the UI interface was easy, well-designed and similar to other platforms he’s used recently: “I like the Tinder-esque style of the app.”
But even though baby boomers registered for houseware and flatware, millennials are doing the same. However, the way of doing so allows for a more community effort, even if it is online.
Files and Cardiel opted to stick to houseware, like the $80 Simplehuman trash can, the $110 Rowenta compact valet garment steamer and bigger-ticket items, like the $399 KitchenAid mixer, which can be “group gifted” right on the site.
Zola operates similarly to eCommerce or retail stores. The merchandising team works directly with all of the 450+ brands shown on the site and makes money by taking a small margin on all gifts, except those related to money or cash gifts.
Interestingly enough, regardless of whether the wedding was 30 years ago or three months ago, Ma said there is a constant demand for classic brands, like KitchenAid, Le Creuset, Wüsthof and Lenox. However, technology and experiences are now the hottest in demand.
“Our fastest-growing category right now is electronics. Luggage and outdoor equipment was also very strong in 2016,” said Ma, adding that experiences also perform very well, as do subscriptions, like Blue Apron and Winc Monthly Wine Club.
However, it does come down to more than just picking items: Family and friends do have to purchase those things in order for the couple to truly begin to enjoy them.
“We had a few people give us gifts on it!” said Jenkins, who added that only about three couples have so far bought gifts off her Zola registry. That said, the couple also did have both an Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond link on their wedding website. “I don’t think a lot of people used it because they weren’t sure what it was.”
But, Ma said, that’s going to change, especially as the next generation begins their nuptials. And, even then, who knows what they’ll register for?
“Generation Z is even more web- and app-savvy than millennials, so no doubt that our best-in-class registry app will become even more important,” said Ma. “Newlyweds are always going to register for essential housewares upgrades — that’s not going to change — but by the time this generation is getting married, they’ll probably also be registering for VR headsets and self-driving cars.”