Shreyas Kulkarni

COVID-induced lockdowns fueled dating apps like Bumble, OkCupid, and Tinder into the mainstream...

... A glance at the changing nature of online dating and if it's begun to bother matrimonial apps.

She loves me. She loves me not. Swipe left. Swipe right. The art of courting or dating remains the same, but the means to go about it has changed drastically over the past seven to nine months.

“Ninety per cent of our Indian users are still looking to date virtually, resulting in a 26 per cent increase in conversations on the app,” revealed Anukool Kumar, marketing director, OkCupid.

Online dating wasn’t always this popular. Yes, it has existed in India for a while, but it didn’t find many takers initially. Call it people’s apprehension or disdain (read embarrassment) about going online to find a date. This was in contrast to online matrimonial platforms that enjoyed a healthier consumer base.

Anukool Kumar
Anukool Kumar

However, online dating saw its fortune change when US-based dating giant Tinder entered India in 2016. Other apps like Bumble and OkCupid followed suit in 2018. Suddenly, online dating became cool.

Statista, a leading market and consumer data company, projects the online dating segment in India to reach a market volume of $783 million by 2024. It’s an indicator of how mainstream these apps have become. Most dating apps offer free as well as paid features.

 Samarpita Samaddar
Samarpita Samaddar

The most popular apps in India are Bumble, Tinder, OkCupid, TrulyMadly, Happn and Grindr. Such is their popularity and penetration that “Indians now go on ‘pre-dates’, where they explore virtual dating for the first time. They use video dates to get to know one another before meeting IRL (in real life),” remarked Samarpita Samaddar, Bumble India’s PR director and spokesperson.

So, who are these people trying to find a date, or even a spouse, on these apps? Are they only millennials or college-going Gen Z? As per OkCupid, the bulk of its users in India are in the 24-35 age group.

Bumble says that Indian women “made the first move on Bumble over 20 million times and are sending twice the number of messages on it, as compared to women in the rest of the world.” Only women can initiate the first conversation on Bumble.

Dating apps were one of the few beneficiaries of the Coronavirus-induced lockdowns. And because face to face real life date wasn’t possible, video calls took centre stage. First dates now didn’t need a good seat at a café, they needed a strong network.

Samaddar told us that Bumble India observed a 38 per cent rise in the use of video calls and voice chats. People in India are roughly spending 20 minutes on average on video calls or voice chats.

Kumar also reported positive numbers. “Globally, there has been an overall 30 per cent increase in messages sent on OkCupid each day since March 11. India witnessed a 26 per cent increase in conversations and a steady increase in matches on OkCupid.”

He went on to reveal that during lockdowns, millennials were not restricting their love within a certain pin code... “We also witnessed five per cent more conversations on OkCupid by those who expanded their preferred location to ‘anywhere’.”

Adding to this, Tinder’s parent company Match Group reported a double rise in the use of the app’s swipe and message features during the third quarter (Q3).

With everyone stuck inside their homes and technology being the only possible outlet to the world, it was but natural to expect dating apps to have some of their best times.

While many used these apps to date frequently and indulge in casual flings, 2020, for the lack of better words, slowed dating. By slowing down dating, millennials discovered love through long, meaningful moments apart, remarked Kumar. “Thirty-eight per cent women confessed that they would like to take things slower and have more virtual interactions even in a post-pandemic world, versus 25 per cent men.”

Bumble also acknowledged this phenomenon. "Eight-one per cent claim that they are more open to taking the time to know their matches on a deeper level and over 540 million messages have been sent on Bumble in India since the beginning of 2020," says Samaddar.

What are these people talking about? From something as serious as politics, elections and voting to fun, light-hearted topics like ‘working from home', beach or mountains, and even nightclub or Netflix... the topics are as varied as they come.

While dating apps enjoyed their best times during lockdowns, what happens now, when India has unlocked? Are people ready for face to face dates once again?

Said Samaddar, "Seventy per cent Indians were not comfortable navigating dating in 2020, but one in two people were ready to go on in-person dates." Bumble India recently introduced “social-distanced” benches in Bengaluru and Goa to make IRL dates safer.

From being locked inside homes to using dating apps to going on virtual dates, the Indian dating scene has come a long way. But can it now threaten matrimonial apps?

Murugavel Janakiraman
Murugavel Janakiraman

"Absolutely not," says Murugavel Janakiraman, founder and CEO, (its flagship brand is Bharat Matrimony). He went on to say that for Indians, marriage is the ultimate goal of a relationship and dating will not become mainstream.

“Dating apps are skewed towards males, while in matrimony services, 30 per cent of the users are women… a very small number of people use dating services, as compared to several million who sign up on matrimony sites.”

But considering the surge in popularity of such apps, where couples who meet on the apps go on to get married, we asked Janakiraman if matrimonial apps should begin to consider dating apps a serious rival. He disagreed and explained that while dating is casual and exploratory in nature, matrimonial app users are serious about their intention to find a life partner and get married.

On the possibility of an app that targets both the dating and matrimonial audience, Janakirman simply says, “We don’t think so.”