Late spring and early summertime, that special season of the year when school bells give way to wedding bells, is typically a critical revenue period for the wedding industry. Not so in 2020. As with many things lately, wedding businesses have been required to immediately adapt to social-distancing restrictions and lockdowns in the nationwide effort to curb the spread of infections. From canceled venue rentals to much smaller catering orders, this year has been especially hard for an industry that relies on large in-person gatherings to make money. Unsurprisingly, the outlook is rather bleak as consumers continue to measure their own comfort levels with attendance and spending. All which begs the question: has the novel coronavirus permanently disrupted one of the most traditional industries in America?

Since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, CivicScience has kept a thumb to the pulse of COVID-19’s impact on Americans. By April, nearly half of U.S. adults reported being personally affected by the cancellation or postponement of a major event.

In May, CivicScience examined how COVID-19 was impacting bridal showers and weddings. While many industries were able to pivot to remote work and online meetings via video conferencing tools, the virtual shift has proven very difficult for an industry so heavily reliant upon physical experiences. In short, very few parts of the wedding business had migrated to online services, let alone the celebration itself. More than 95% of U.S. adults responded that they had not attended a virtual wedding-related event during the pandemic. 

Following up, by June almost half of U.S. adults personally knew of at least one couple who had postponed a wedding-related event due to the coronavirus. Even more telling, sixteen percent of nearly 2,300 respondents were aware of multiple couples who’d canceled or postponed their wedding plans. 

Discomfort with Indoor / In-person Gatherings

One defining indicator of Americans’ (lack of) eagerness — or even unlikelihood — to participate in a wedding or shower in the near future is comfort. By June, although many localities reported decreases in COVID-19 cases, more than half of U.S. adults showed mixed feelings when it came to wedding cancellations. Forty-two percent even confessed to experiencing relief, perhaps an indication that not everyone feels comfortable with choosing to forgo the festivities. 

Speaking of difficult choices, when asked about making the decision to attend an in-person wedding or bridal shower, 51% percent of U.S. adults said they’d either decided not to attend or opted to participate in an alternative form of attendance via an online or drive-by event. 

Getting down to brass tacks – or gold rings, if you will – it may take a few months before most people (62%) say they’ll feel comfortable about the possibility of attending an indoor wedding.

The sentiments on comfort with indoor attendance are consistent, regardless of whether or not someone has been directly affected by a recent cancellation or postponement. Sixty-one percent of adults report some level of discomfort with the prospect of attending a wedding in the near future, with or without having been previously impacted by a postponement or canceled event due to the coronavirus. 

No Rush to Splurge

The other major indicator: spending. Back in March, with the rise in event postponements and cancellations, COVID disruptions led to widespread consumer reservations about money, especially for discretionary spending on gift items and parties.

Beyond venues, small wedding businesses — especially local shops and boutiques — are feeling the sting. From florists to event planners, and photographers to musicians, everyone is cutting back. Particularly on gifts. Based on CivicScience’s previous studies, a majority (53%) of wedding-goers prefer to give gifts for both the shower and the wedding. However, recent polling shows a reduction in intent to splurge for wedding season as Americans face uncertainty about long-term plans during the pandemic. Nearly a quarter of U.S. adults plan to spend less per individual wedding present and cash gifts than in previous years.

Drive-Thru “I Dos”

But are couples just saying ‘I don’t’ during the pandemic? Hardly. Just because fewer folks are walking down the aisle doesn’t mean vows aren’t being exchanged. People are getting very creative with their new “nuptial normals,” from hosting unique events in socially-distanced settings to wishing friends well via drive-thru celebrations. An adventurous forty-one percent of folks are even ready to just run away and elope! And, while only a small number (6%) of respondents have already attended / plan to attend a drive-thru celebration this season, some guests may choose to drop-off those shower gifts during the trending popularity of time-coordinated drive-by bridal showers. 

Looking Forward

So, has COVID-19 changed one of the most traditional industries forever? Will cultural expectations shift, leading to smaller, more intimate gatherings? Will couples wait longer to get married? Even if the wedding industry is being hit hard, not all is lost. With summer weather finally here, saying ‘I do’ in isolation has given way to a rise in outdoor events and small gatherings. And, while attendance may have yet to take off for virtual wedding celebrations, at least spirits are up. Half of Americans say they would dress up for the occasion, even if they’ve yet to attend a virtual wedding or online celebration. 

All in all, Americans are getting creative about how to plan and attend weddings after the shock of COVID-19. There’s still a lot of room for the industry to adapt; it wouldn’t be surprising to see a wave of fun solutions pop up in the near future. Mobile bridal boutiques and single-person stylists’ stations could be rolling into venue parking lots right next to catering food trucks and traveling musicians. Despite the many uncertainties, CivicScience will be tracking these trends and looking for keen insights. If you want more on this topic or any others, like how quickly your industry’s favorables want to come back to in-person experiences, let’s talk.