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Ido Cohen | February 14, 2022

Swipe right: How tech changed the dating game

In time for Valentine’s Day, Senior Portfolio Manager Ido Cohen1 discusses the impact of tech on dating, the growing online dating services market, and where his team is seeing opportunities in this space.

It’s Valentine’s Day, and whether you like it or not, it’s a time that makes you think about relationships.

Not long ago, before the internet entered daily life, relationships often began with serendipitous moments. A smile across a crowded bar, a simple ‘hello’ or a swift exchange of glances.

While this may still hold true for many relationships today, an ever-increasing number of them now begin with a click or a swipe.

Social norms have changed

The options to meet people online has come a long way since Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks – arguably, the ultimate Rom-Com couple of the 90s – starred in “You’ve Got Mail.” The pair played two New Yorkers who fall in love across the cyber void.

Only 30% of the U.S. population had access to the internet when the movie was released in 1998. In those days, finding your partner online was somewhat of a novelty. But today, over 90% of Americans are internet users2, and many of them now turn to their screens to find love.

Choosing a mate is perhaps the most important decision a person can make. The right partner can inspire and support you to attain goals, motivate you to exercise and eat healthy, and can influence your social circles. While an unfavourable match might increase your indebtedness, cause deteriorating health, and ruin your other interpersonal relationships. For thousands of years, humans have been meeting their partners mostly through existing networks of friends and family. But in the U.S., things have changed: meeting ‘online’ has become the most popular way for couples to connect.

Figure 1: How couples meet

Share of U.S. heterosexual couples meeting online has increased

Source: Stanford University; How Couples Meet and Stay Together. Survey of 5,421 adults. Other options: In church/neighbourhood.

According to a Stanford University study, in 2017 around 39% of American heterosexual couples have found each other online (see Figure 1). The once social stigma associated with meeting your future partner via the internet is now a thing of the past – at least amongst millennials.

The U.S. may be leading the way, but other countries where internet access is commonplace are following suit.

In Canada, the number of users is expected to amount to 2.9 million users by 2026.3 In the UK, nearly a third of all relationships that began between 2015 and 2019 started online.4

Meanwhile, dating services has become a profitable industry with room to grow. In China, the world’s most populous country, there are around 200 million single adults. And due to the one-child policy implemented in the years between 1980 and 2015, men outnumber women.

Why people choose to connect online

There are, of course, many reasons why people may prefer meeting people on the internet rather than face-to-face. But as with many other services delivered online, a dating app typically provides users with convenience and efficiency.

Many of us are increasingly leading ever-busier lives. Dating apps allow users to filter for specific traits from a pool of people available to date, which makes life a lot easier for time-strapped individuals.

The analogue equivalent of this would be to spend hours meeting and talking to people, just to figure out whether they’d be willing to date – and often without knowing whether they have the traits you’re looking for in a partner until you’ve spent significant resources (time and money) to find out.

Dating apps allow for a wider set of potential partners people may not be able to meet randomly in person. And they provide a lifeline for people, whose idea of a partner may be quite different from that of their friends and family. For same-sex couples, for instance, about two-thirds of couples now find each other online.5

Online dating apps can vary vastly. Users should be able to find one that matches their intentions – whether they’re seeking a life partner or whether they anticipate dating for the foreseeable future.

The online dating services market

In 2021, the global revenue in the dating services market amounted to $8.2 billion USD.3 Most of the revenue was generated in developed markets, where the share of the population using the internet is now approaching 90% or more.

Europe contributed approximately $1.8 billion USD in revenues, with Germany leading the way, followed by the UK and France.3

The U.S. was marginally behind Europe and contributed around $1.6 billion USD towards the revenues in the dating services market. However, China has been the fastest-growing region in this space, with a CAGR of 5.4% up to 2026 and a projected market volume of $1.4 billion USD by 2026.3

In our view, online dating is another area set to benefit from rising consumer connectivity. The addressable market is large, with estimates indicating that there are over 600 million singles worldwide and growing.6 While different regions will have different perspectives on online dating, we believe it’s a global phenomenon.

In addition to the growing user base, we’re attracted to online dating business models, which focus on subscriptions, as this serves to enhance cash flow visibility and stability. We have, therefore, built exposure in a few holdings within this sector in the Global Consumer Trends strategy.

Love in the time of Covid-19

Covid-19 has created a paradox for the providers of online dating services. The implementation of Covid-19 measures, such as physical distancing and national lockdowns, shouldn’t have provided much room for dating.

And yet, dating apps registered an increase in user engagement since the pandemic began, as people sought connections amid isolation. Tinder registered 3 billion swipes worldwide on March 29, 2020, and then broke that single day record a staggering 130 more times over the course of that year.7 Other dating apps also saw similar surges in user engagement.

However, as the pandemic continued, concerns about dating app users experiencing ‘swipe fatigue’ began to grow. Meeting people online may help create a semblance of normalcy during the pandemic, but we think there is pent-up demand to actually go on dates in the real world, given many countries have been in lockdown.

Outlook

We take a longer-term view on the companies we hold in our strategy. We believe that online dating services will continue to benefit from the structural tailwinds mentioned above. These include the decline of social stigma, increased access to the internet, or the growing number of singles in the world.

Additionally, we believe our holdings in this sector will be Covid-19 recovery beneficiaries, particularly when compared to other ‘internet’ stocks available. People, in general, are lonelier today after enduring Covid-lockdowns.

The average U.S. consumer is also in a good spending position with lower debt levels and higher savings, thanks to government stimulus. We expect this combination will result in greater users of online dating app subscriptions.

Regulatory changes taking place in app store economics could also prove beneficial for the sector. Today, subscription-based apps downloaded on mobile phones are currently required to use an in-app payment system. In some cases, this results in a commission of up to 30% as opposed to the 1-3.5% transaction fees collected by credit cards.

While South Korea was the first country to mandate changes to the app store payment structure through its amended Telecommunication Business Act, other countries are seeking minimize the fee impact to app developers.

If this dynamic were to change, online dating apps would be able to keep more of their subscription fee, which would help to bolster existing revenues and profits for online dating service providers. It’s an evolving situation we are watching closely for our investors.

In Canada, Ido Cohen is the Senior Portfolio Manager for the Invesco U.S. Companies Fund.

1 Ido Cohen is Senior Portfolio Manager for Invesco large-cap growth equity strategies and is the Lead Manager for Invesco consumer trends products.

2 Source: Internet usage number from 1998 provided by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) via the World Bank. 2021 estimate is provided by the Pew Research Center.

3 Source: Source: Statista. Dating Services Report 2021 published in December 2021.

4 Source: Imperial College Business School/eharmony; Future of Dating

5 Source: Stanford University as at August 2019; “Disintermediating your friends: How online dating in the United States displaces other ways of meeting” by Michael J. Rosenfeld & Reuben J. Thomas.

6 Source: Match Group. Q4 2018 Earnings Call.

7 Source: Tinder. ‘The Future of Dating is Fluid’ published on 25 March 2021.

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Ido Cohen is under Invesco Advisers, Inc., which is an affiliate of Invesco Canada Ltd. and the sub-advisor of the fund(s) managed by him.

Invesco Canada Ltd. and Invesco Advisers, Inc. are indirect, wholly owned subsidiaries of Invesco Ltd.

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