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$19 billion is spent on wedding gifts a year. Zola helps couples get stuff they actually want

Zola has raised $3.25 million in its first round of funding to grow its wedding registry for the “modern couple.”

Zola’s marketplace features a range of curated gift options, including a mix of traditional wedding presents (like blenders, china, and fancy linen), along with more eclectic offerings like bicycles, art work, and hygrometers.

It also features “experiences,” like a farmers market subscription or interior design consultation. Couples may also use Zola to ask for contributions to a honeymoon or cash fund.

Let’s face it, weddings are weird. A couple spends the equivalent of a year’s income to throw a party where guests stuffed into suits and high-heeled pumps watch them swear to be together until they DIE, followed by a conga line and cake.

The bright side is you get presents, which is really the end-game here.

Zola launched in early October. It was founded by Gilt Groupe founder Kevin Ryan and Gilt alumni Shan-Lyn Ma and Nobu Nakagushi. The basic idea is to fill a registry with stuff a couple may actually want and use, rather than six toasters, four sets of crystal stemware, and ambiguous grilling gadgets.

Back in the day, wedding gifts were intended to help a couple start their new life together. A wedding really was the beginning of married life, where people had no collective belongings and needed help from their friends and family to set up a home.

That is no longer the case. The average age of marriage is going up, and many of these couples are already living together. Chances are they have the basics, and don’t need to rely on other people and exhaustive wedding registries to furnish their home, as did the brides and grooms are yore.

But when do Americans ever miss an opportunity for excessive, over-the-top consumerism?

The “industrial wedding complex” comprises a $51 billion industry, once you factor in dresses, florists, reception halls, event planners, foods, photographers, musicians, and gifts. $19 billion of this money is spent on wedding gifts — 10 billion on traditional gifts and $9 billion in cash and alternative gift registries.

However a study conducted by the University of Notre Dame found that gift registries actually make weddings less meaningful for guests. People may want to buy you a gift to celebrate this important event in your life, but may not feel that dropping $135 on a tagine dish adequately expresses their joy.

Zola’s goal is to turn the wedding registry into a pleasant online retail experience for everyone involved, and put a bit of sentiment back into the shopping process.

Couples can find a curated selection of things they may actually like, want, and use, or add in items they found elsewhere on the Internet. Zola offers Starter Collections, which include popular items based on specific preferences, as well as featured registries. Couples create unique URLs and can personalize their registries with photos, stores, and anecdotes.

Gifts can also be marked for group gifting, where friends can basically crowdfund more expensive items, and Zola notifies the couple when each item has been purchased. The system tracks and organizes all of the transactions so couples can make sure they get all the goodies. And write thank you notes.

Thrive Capital led this round of financing. The capital will be used to improve the platform, develop mobile apps, and add more local experiences to the inventory.

Zola competes with TheKnot, MyRegistry, NewlyWish, and RegistryLove, which all have their own approach to selling nuptial gifts online.

It is based in New York City, where the average wedding costs $65,824.