The New Registry: Needs Versus Wants

As couples continue to adapt their wedding plans because of the pandemic, it’s not surprising that wedding registries look different, too.

Many have become more practical and considerate.

Fine china and ornate linen requests have been replaced with outdoor furniture and grills. Airline gift cards are taking a downward dip and Grubhub and streaming services are up. And that pandemic puppy needs swag, too. Couples are now registering for four-legged themed items. On Zola a popular registry service, pet gift cards are up 78 percent.

Meredith Maher and Rich Carmody, who got engaged in July 2019, and postponed their September 2020 wedding for this coming July 9, changed their registry last April, and again in December.

“Money is tight. I didn’t want anyone to feel they had to dole out their savings to provide us with a nice gift,” said Ms. Maher, 29, who removed their $1,000 Juliska bar cart and pricey Waterford items with everyday flatware and a ‘house fund.’ In May the couple didn’t renew their lease in Manhattan and are now staying with her parents in Connecticut.

“I never thought we’d put a ‘house fund’ on our list, but a house is more exciting and more necessary than an expensive decanter,” Ms. Maher said. “A lot of people we know added couches and furniture to their registry since they had to move due to the pandemic.”

Zola has seen spikes in air purifiers, up 43 percent, coolers, outdoor firepits, vacuums, air fryers and beach towels. “Yeti cooler” is the site’s second highest search term, just behind flatware. And the company has created a ‘workout at home’ category that includes 100-plus items, such as a Peloton bike, exercise mats and weights.

“Within a few weeks couples were expanding the scope of their registries to include the hobbies they discovered during the pandemic,” said Maya Simon, senior vice president of registry and e-commerce at Zola. “They have embraced this new lifestyle with more enthusiasm than we expected to see.”

Couples welcomed artistic endeavors with surprising gusto. Online classes, virtual experiences and D.I.Y. passion projects became pandemic stress-relievers and boredom antidotes.

“My fiancé took up baking, since we have so much time on our hands now, so we’re making things we never would have made before, like bread and homemade pasta and sauce,” said Chelsea Zesch, 30, who lives with her fiancé, Josh Jones in Cincinnati. They were engaged last April and since the pandemic, their registry has shifted to home improvement, entertaining and cooking items.

“We added a number of things we originally didn’t think we’d need; a fancy weed eater, an extendable ladder, lawn chairs for eight, a badminton set and specialty cookware like a pizza stone and a Dutch oven,” said Ms. Zesch, whose wedding is set for Sept. 18. “As the pandemic was happening we bought things off our registry ourselves like towels, bedding and a hammock, because we were home so much.”

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Honeymoon sites have been hit hard since many couples have halted their travel plans or are choosing to explore locally. “We pivoted when we saw couples delaying their weddings,” said Brandon Warner, a founder of TravelersJoy.com, a honeymoon wedding registry that specializes in offering unforgettable travel experiences. “People were transitioning to local experiences and staying-home registry asks, like online yoga, or virtual cooking and cocktail classes, so that’s what we’ve added,” Mr. Warner said. “Couples are getting creative. That might include asking for a giant Jenga game, the opportunity to rent a fancy car for the day, or a slew of high-tech camping gear. Before this, no one registered for bikes or puzzles. Now that’s on people’s lists.”

In June, the site shifted its focus and categories to more local and experiential activities. ‘Staying home’ suggested items like a disc golf set for two and other lawn games, while ‘staying local’ offered monthly subscription services like coffee, flowers, and classes. “We also added instant registry U.S. destinations, like Charleston, Palm Springs and Vermont,” said Mr. Warner, where previous locations might have been snorkeling in the Maldives or a train ticket from Madrid to Barcelona.

In 2019, 24,000 couples took trips thanks to the gifts they received through Traveler’s Joy. In 2020 that number was only 9,000. Six thousand of those trips were local, and only 3,000 ventured out of state. “Those are not typical places to go on your honeymoon. We send couples to exotic places like New Zealand, Japan, Amalfi Coast. But it says couples still want to find a way to celebrate their marriage and have a sense of exploration.”

Other companies have been unable to navigate as successfully.

Honeyfund.com, is a cash wedding gift registry that acts as a crowdfunding site for couples to raise money for their honeymoon. Last year the company lost 75 percent of their revenue. “Less gifting is happening because couples are postponing their wedding or they’re eloping, so wedding guests are holding off sending their gifts or purchasing them because everything is impending, and they’re not sure what to do,” said Sara Margulis, a founder and the chief executive of Honeyfund.com. “Since Covid, we have created a new ‘flexibility fund’ where guests can add to what couples need. Instead of using the cash for a honeymoon, couples are raising money to pay for their wedding itself. Others who have lost money on their deposits are trying to recoup it from their guests.”

For Ms Maher and Mr. Carmody, and others like them, altering their lists came down to the simple things. “People are looking at their weddings and their registry differently now. It’s what do I need, rather than what do I want,” she said. “Our priorities have changed. It’s not about who gives what. It’s about providing flexibility to others, and asking for things we will really use instead of expensive things we will only use once a year.”

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