Will 2016 be the Death of Dating Apps and why we will see a resurgence of traditional paid dating

Those of us working in the online dating industry know how tough it’s been for traditional paid dating services over the last two years.

After nearly a decade of “mobile is the next big thing” in 2013 it finally arrived with the first large scale successful mobile dating app — Tinder of course.

By January 2014 Tinder had reached 10 million users worldwide and it’s presence was starting to be felt by traditional subscription dating sites which found that users were unwilling to spend the level of money required in order to acquire the member — quite simply the ROI from members was not sufficient to pay the member acquisition costs.

Single brand traditional subscription dating sites (those which had one brand, one tech platform and one database) started dying — or rather selling — when they realised the game was up and it was no longer possible for most of them (generally the less capable and lazy ones) to profitably acquire and retain customers in the face of the Tinder onslaught.

2014 and 2015

Throughout 2014 and 2015, Tinder was joined by Happn, Hinge and Bumble in the dating app war and users signed up in their droves, to the detriment of traditional single-brand dating sites. New apps would launch (and continue to do so) with new bells and whistles, but the vast majority would fail to achieve sufficient scale to be useful to members. Many of these dating app startups were simply indefensible features of a dating app, not a sustainable business.

Throughout 2014 and 2015 the winning dating businesses were those who could cross-sell their members from one product to another. In the case of our white label business, partners would acquire a member on one site, then cross-sell them across multiple sites to generate a positive ROI that enabled then to continually acquire during this period.

Portfolio dating companies like IAC, Venntro Media Group and our partners on the WhiteLabelDating.com platform managed to weather the swiping storm and as a resort we were approached by many traditional sites looking to sell to us or become part of our portfolio of dating products.

2016 — Dating Apps Fail to Scale and Retain Users

With the exception of Tinder, we have yet to see a dating app reach scale and retain users over a period of 18 months — with enough money to acquire users (typically US$10million or more), dating apps can onboard enough users to be meaningful and useful to their members.

But how do you retain users long enough to generate a positive ROI from those members? Dating app users are, by their very nature, more fickle than traditional dating site users as there is a lower barrier to entry to sign up and use the service. So how serious are their members in finding love?

Tinder markets itself on their homepage as the place to find “Friends, dates, relationships, and everything in between” — the problem is that too many people use Tinder (and the vast majority of the other dating apps) as the bit in between — if they’re not willing to spend a reasonable amount of money on finding love (perhaps a dollar a day), how serious are the guys (or some girls) in their quest for a relationship?

Quite simply, it is simply too expensive for most dating apps to profitably scale their business in the long term and retain users using just one brand dating app.

IAC / Match Group who own Tinder know this of course which is why they have built a solid portfolio of dating apps and sites within which they can cross-sell and monetise users many times.

Tinder > PlentyOfFish > OKCupid > Match > $$$

In 2013 and 2014 dating apps grew the market, attracted younger demographic and more casual users who were maybe curious but unlikely to pro-actively join what they regard as a “dating site’. This is a good thing — the addressable market has grown as a result of the app.

However, many of these users are now disenfranchised with what they perceive to be a shallow, ethereal experience using these apps and are now looking for a more meaningful experience.

2016 — The Resurgence of Integrated Dating Brands

In 2016 we will see current dating app users (and more coming into the market) use a portfolio of dating products for friendship, dates, relationships and everything in between.

As someone who has used online dating extensively before meeting my wife on a dating site, I absolutely understand that there are times users are looking to meet new people for fun dates, looking for someone to date, looking for a relationship and looking for a life partner.

And as an industry we need to support this and serve our customers accordingly — multiple brands for friendship, dates, relationships and everything in between.

Online dating businesses should recognise this and provide a portfolio of dating sites and apps with which they can attract, convert and retain members profitably across the dating lifecycle.

The winning dating brands are those which offer a fully integrated experience — desktop web, mobile web and apps that are all optimised to the usage of that medium — and have an effective strategy to cross-sell members across dating brands to maximise the lifetime value of that customer.