It starts right around the New Year, and surprisingly, it doesn't involve giving up anything. It's the prime online dating season, the peak time for e-matchmakers to attract new customers.


And eHarmony.com now is striving to attract an unusual group of new customers: married people.


As the top site for online marriage-making, eHarmony.com boasts of more than 15,000 marriages a year between its single subscribers (the company doesn't track divorces). Trouble is, happily ever after doesn't generate repeat business for the Pasadena matchmaker.


So, to extend the honeymoon with its newlyweds, the online matchmaker last year introduced a "Marriage Wellness Program." It features 12 interactive online videos that offer advice for couples trying to deal with the common challenges faced by husbands and wives.


For an online dating service to search for new customers among the married points out how the once skyrocketing online relationship business is maturing and getting harder.


According to Jupiter Research data, the number of Internet users who say they actually paid for online dating subscriptions fell from 6 percent in 2004 to 5 percent in 2005. More than one-third of users who tried an Internet dating service didn't convert to a full paid subscription.


What's more, revenue growth is slowing. The U.S. online dating industry grew about 10 percent in 2005, with revenues of $516 million coming from consumer subscriptions. That's slower than the 19 percent growth in 2004, and way down from the 77 percent spike the industry experienced in 2003.


However, eHarmony's chief executive, Greg Waldorf, pointed out that the big growth in earlier years was exaggerated by the small base of customers, and the potential future market is still great.


"If you compare it to 2002 or 2003, percentage wise it's not the same growth but our subscriber numbers were smaller then," Waldorf said. "There are 90 million singles in the U.S. and 15 million to 30 million of those will visit an online dating site. But over the course of a year only about 3 million to 4 million will subscribe that's a huge challenge. It's a big gap and that doesn't feel like a saturated market to me."


But eHarmony's competitors are rolling up their sleeves, too. Match.com launched a relationship advice service last year featuring TV self-help and relationship guru Dr. Phil McGraw.


According to Duane Dahl, chief executive of eHarmony competitor PerfectMatch.com, the $50 to $100 it now costs to sign up a member, particularly men, has become a real challenge.

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