Determining how and when to pop the question can be a nerve-wracking thought process, but for EGreetings.com CEO Gordon Tucker, everything just clicked, so to speak.
Tucker had met Karyn Smith, an attorney working to bring his company public, in September 1999 and the couple began exchanging e-cards as they dated. When it came time to talk matrimony, Tucker said he customized a card with music from the pianist George Winston and limited the email reply option to "yes."
Smith accepted his virtual proposal, and while he considers the e-greeting the "official engagement," Tucker still felt compelled to "do the traditional thing." He got down on bended knee when shopping for the ring the following day and the two were married in November.
Tucker has since used his successful engagement card to woo investors, a move that Smith found less than romantic. "She accused me in the end of using it as a marketing vehicle but it was completely genuine when I sent it," said Tucker with a laugh. "I just thought it was such a fun idea."
Consumers who are struck by a cyber cupid can check out EGreetings' array of free Flash animation cyber cards with music ranging from a seductive crooner like Barry White to a more ominous soundtrack clip from a David Lynch movie.
While he doesn't know how many people use the cards for engagement purposes, Tucker reports the firm has 500 e-messages earmarked just for Valentine's Day, the second biggest card-sending day after Christmas. More than 10 million EGreetings cards were sent in December, he said.
"People don't just send them to their sweetie," he said. "They send them to their moms, to their sisters, brothers, grandparents." The newest e-commerce feature is the option to attach a gift certificate, he said.
While it may seem impersonal, wired consumers warm to the idea quickly, said Tucker. "It replaces traditional greeting cards, but more than that it's an email product that allows you to say more about who you are and what you want to say to the other person."
Marty McKolskey, president of 1001 Postcards in Sherman Oaks, Calif., said he was "surprised" by the success of his site's online marriage proposal section, which features 25 engagement-specific cards out of a total of 8,000 cards. He got the idea from a manager at Yahoo who wanted to link to the option, he said.
McKolskey reports it's now one of the top 30 most popular categories. The number of e-proposal cards sent averages 500 to 600 a week and has been up to 100 a day since the beginning of February.
It may be conveniet, but is a virtual marriage proposal e-romantic or just plain unromantic?
Etiquette expert Sue Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies in Los Gatos, Calif., doesn't see a problem with the trend overall, but warns people to use caution both personally and professionally. First, consider the tastes of the propose-ee. "Some women wouldn't be too happy, but if they're interested in marrying the person, I think it would be fine," said Fox.
Secondly, if you're emailing from work, remember that your employer could be monitoring your digital tracks, and be sure to doublecheck the email address of your beloved before hitting "send," she said.
While McKolskey said he wouldn't choose a virtual proposal for his own engagement, he said consumers consider it "just as valid and not as expensive" a way to communicate a sensitive moment. He's had a few grateful emails from people whose significant others had said yes and was even invited to one of the weddings, he said.
The proliferation of technology into everyday life combined with longer work days makes email a good solution for some, said McKolskey. "For many people, it's just that online is the way to do things," he said, noting that an e-card ranks higher on the social pecking order and is "much more appropriate" than a pager proposal, for example.
He also theorized that e-cards could be a natural extension of another cyber phenomenon. "A lot of people have met online so they feel it's only appropriate to propose online," he said. "It's some emotional attachment to the online experience."
McKolskey said he hasn't yet received email about being turned down, but the prospect of a "no" may be enough to drive some people to digital means. "It's terrifying to get down on one knee," he said. "The potential for a rejection, no matter how small, is always going to be there."
For Paul Alden, president and founder of Will You Marry Me Proposal Planners, the Internet is "vitally important" for drawing customers to his Hingham, Mass.-based consulting and coordinating company.
Aspiring spouses can use the service to kick around ideas and customize a personal, creative way in which to pop the question. The firm's behind-the-scenes work with service providers can yield cheaper rates than consumers can get on their own, said Alden.
The process begins with a minimum three-hour consulting session at $60 an hour and while he will work with only a few days lead time, the best deals come from advance notice of three to four weeks, he said.
The engagement process is easier to streamline than a wedding where "you're dealing with a bride, a groom, two sets of parents and there's a lot of different opinions," he said. "It can get very confusing and emotional."
"This, because we're dealing with a single client, is more enjoyble because as long as our client likes what we come up with for the scenario; that's the only person that we have to answer to," he added.
After two and a half years, the business of customizing proposals and arranging the details is "skyrocketing," he said. He's served about 400 clients, 12 of whom were women. Alden said he's now looking into creating a national network of caterers as well as forming an alliance with a national jewelry chain.
Alden said he understands why some people would be turned off by the use of professional assistance at such a critical juncture in a relationship. "We make no bones about it that this service is not for everyone," he said, adding that it's not just a luxury item. "In this day and age, convenience is a very important part of a lot of people's lives."
TheMan.com is another site that is expanding its offerings in the engagement arena. The new engagement subchannel focuses on the best proposal locations, and the site is growing that category to make it "a special event for her," said CEO Calvin Lui.
And TheMan aims to fill a void by representing the male perspective of the marriage equation, he said. The closest competition, TheBestMan.com, targets men in the wedding party once the engagement is accepted. TheMan, which already includes a diamond buying guide and e-commerce links, will add expert question and answer formats to its current lineup, which includes a bachelor party planner, according to Lui.
The site seeks to be the "ultimate solution resource" for guys, especially in areas like getting engaged where they may not otherwise seek advice.
Says Lui: "Guys don't always feel comfortable asking these questions in public so it's a great resource for guys to get things done."