Despite years of success at the business of matchmaking, real-world dating services are in a losing battle with the Web for a couple of reasons. Well, actually three reasons. Wait, make that four or five or six reasons.
The bottom line is that offline dating services simply cannot compete with what’s being offered by their Internet-based competitors. Not only do online dating businesses offer singles the comfort of looking for love while in their pajamas at home, they also charge a lot less than their offline counterparts — a whole lot less.
Moreover, Internet dating sites offer database searching of the hobbies and habits of potential dates — a vast improvement over looking at hundreds of paper or video profiles that don’t fit any particular criteria.
Because of the e-commerce angle, Web-based dating sites also provide a significantly higher level of customer service, without the embarrassment of a face-to-face hard sell from a matchmaking consultant.
If brick-and-mortar dating services don’t jump on the Web soon, they might as well fold up their tents and go home.
Ever since the dot-com crash, the prevailing wisdom in e-business circles has been that offering goods and services in multiple trade channels is the best way to go. No matter what product or service your company is selling, sell it both online and off — and be sure to integrate the two.
Multichannel has become a sort of mantra for the post-shakeout age. However, it’s time to come out of the multichannel meditation and realize that depending on what’s for sale, there are many cases where a choice between either brick or click is better than brick-and-click.
Some businesses just don’t belong on the Internet. Think tanning salons and TaeBo. Swing the pendulum the other way and you’ll find quite a few businesses that are better Net-only. Online dating is a prime example.
Even if multichannel shopping is the way to go for clothes, books and computers, it does not make sense in the looking-for-love biz. The Internet and dating services are a match made in heaven.
It’s not that offline matchmaking businesses are to be taken lightly. They rake in big bucks, charging thousands of members some US$800 to $3,000 a year. You do the math.
One of the biggest brick-and-mortar matchmaking services in the United States is Great Expectations, which has 45 offices across the U.S. However, with Great Expectations comes even Greater Burdens.
For example, there’s no peeking at other members before you commit to joining, and moreover, every step of the search costs something. Great Expectations quotes its potential members a membership fee of a few thou a year, in a conference room setting in which the sales consultant uses pitches such as “We have someone for you,” and “I signed up the perfect guy just the other day, and he’s Catholic like you, and tall and handsome.”
What a crock, right? Except that the hard-sell pitch is aimed at some fairly sensitive issues.
The Buck Stops Here
Great Expectations asks its clients to fill out a questionnaire that includes a series of yes-or-no answers and three short essays: Who are you? What do you like to do? What are you looking for? Then, even though Mr. Client has clearly stated in writing that he does not want kids, he has to cull through three-ring binders chock full of profiles of women who have or want kids.
The Great Expectations Web site does not provide much relief for its customers. It is a brochure-style site, without any online searching capability. It says that its service “provides people with an opportunity to read about other people and take their time in deciding whether they wish to get to know that person.”
Unfortunately, a lot of time can be burned looking through profiles that cannot be sorted electronically according to age, smoking preference or any other parameter.
Free Your Mind
In contrast, when searching through an e-commerce dating service, the computer reads the client’s profile and matches it with other people who match — a welcome time saver for the working singleton.
For example, one popular national online dating site, Matchmaker.com, gives members a few weeks for free, including the opportunity to click “match,” look at a bunch of singles with whom the surfer has things in common, and send messages.
Simple e-mail reminders sail in every few days, explaining when the free look will be over. And if the potential member posts a photo (for free), he or she gets a few more days on the Matchmaker.com site at no charge.
Back in the “real world” at Great Expectations, sending photos to the other members costs about $5 each, and copying member profiles is 26 cents per page. On the Net, however, click on “print” and the member profile print-out is — you guessed it — free. Oh yeah, and joining Matchmaker.com costs about $20 a month.
Love’s Labours Lost
One other thing. At Great Expectations, a portion of the population is excluded. There is no connection point there for gays and lesbians. In contrast, nearly every online dating site offers an array of communities to join, including not only gay and lesbian, but also groups that are interest-specific.
Convenience, privacy, low cost, streamlined searching and superior customer service. When Bridget Jones goes looking for Mr. Goodbar 10 years from now, it’s going to be nothing but Net.
Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.