Love, the old adage warns you, comes at a price. Something akin to it is seemingly not cheaper either in our Age of Covid.
From casual hookups to looking for something serious, the coronavirus scare has changed the online dating space in India.
And when Indians are looking for something serious, it seems they don't mind spending that little extra. More so, when it comes to matters of the heart.
This is why online dating platforms, especially those which focus on high-intent dating rather than casual encounters, are seeing people spending on paid plans.
"Our monthly revenues have grown four times as compared to last year. Average revenue per user (ARPU) has increased rapidly in tier II and III markets. Revenue growth is coming from tier II and III towns," Snehil Khanor, CEO and co-founder, Truly Madly, told Moneycontrol.
He added that the paying percentage is improving in India. "On our platform, APRU per month currently is Rs 1,500, which last year was Rs 350, and one reason for this increase is the pandemic."
Aisle, another dating platform, has found that the time taken by users to buy a premium plan has reduced in the current times.
"This is why we are thinking of another premium model which will be a lot more personalized as users are getting a lot more serious. The 'shudh desi romance is back'," said Able Joseph, Founder, Aisle.
On TrulyMadly, users can buy premium plans or so-called 'sparks' which lets them connect directly to their matches, and highlights a user's profile -- and all this comes in the price range of Rs 699 to Rs 899.
On the other hand, Aisle offers premium plans which costs Rs 1,000 for a month, Rs 1,700 for three months and Rs 2,700 for six months. "A premium user gets five matches a day and not more because the purpose is serious relationships," said Joseph.
He added that Aisle's market share has increased in terms of revenue, and he doesn't think the reason is anything other than the pandemic.
"The usage of online dating platforms has changed. For casual dating, there is skepticism and it has come to a pause because the fun is only when people can meet which is not happening a lot," said Joseph.
Sharing similar sentiments, Khanor said, "People who were not interested in online dating, even they are coming on board. People who were like "we are outgoing and we have parties to meet new people," even they are flocking to online dating platforms as now the concern is where else do you meet new people."
While Indians are logging onto online dating platforms because they are lonely, said Joseph, even the platforms are innovating to keep users engaged.
Like Aisle, which launched a feature called Rooms two months back.
"An Aisle member can create the Room and any member can enter the Room and talk to the host for five minutes. At the end of five minutes, the host can choose to match with the guest or not," explained Joseph.
Currently, over 10,000 minutes of audio are streamed every day on the platform, which would have been more if the feature was available to all members. Rooms will be rolled out to all members of the platform in the first quarter next year.
Priyanka Chopra-backed dating app Bumble, too, is seeing more people opting for virtual dates.
"Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a 38 percent increase in video calls from March onwards," said Samarpita Samaddar, Bumble India's PR Director.
Indians are spending roughly 20 minutes on average on a video chat or voice call on Bumble, she added.
Along with virtual dates becoming the new normal, there's another change Joseph sees for the online dating space in India.
"We always had this question whether GenZ (People born between 1997-2012/15 and regarded as the newest generation), when they turn 25, will they be interested in romance. Now, it is clear that they will be because of the pandemic. They see the advantages of long-term relationships. If you are not around friends and family in times like these it affects your mental health. So, 2022 will be a great period for dating apps. If not for the pandemic, I wasn't sure if GenZ would have been interested in romance."
Khanor expects the online dating space to continue growing even if a Covid vaccine comes out soon and sees revenue growing next year as well.
Despite getting vaccinated, the situation in terms of meeting new people will not change at least for a year or two, Khanor said. According to him, increasingly first dates will be virtual dates and Indians will continue opting for more online conversations, and therefore go for paid plans.
Covid, it seems, might well in the end be a shot in the arm for online dating platforms.