Life, in general, is limited these days. We stay at home most of the time, attend meetings online, catch up with our friends and families on screens and entertain ourselves with online games and of course, Netflix. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted all aspects of our lives and the dating scene is no exception to this.

How do you find a date and explore potential relationships amidst an ongoing pandemic? What are the singles of Singapore up to during the CB period and what will the dating scene look like in a post-COVID world.

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Paktor is a location-based dating and networking mobile application that connects mutually interested users and allows them to chat individually or as a group. Founded in Singapore, the app was launched in June 2013 and has over 5 billion swipes to date with over 15 million users across the region.

We spoke to the CEO of Paktor Group CEO, Ms Shn Juay to dive deep into the dating scene in Singapore amidst COVID-19.

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CEO of Paktor Group CEO Ms Shn Juay

TVM: What are the emerging trends in the usage of your dating products since the COVID-19 outbreak?

Singaporeans definitely still have dating on their minds. Despite the gloomy economic outlook and the evolving Covid-19 situation, most people are craving for human connections and find that they now have the luxury of time and space to do so. As more people are staying home or working from home, this allows them more time to think about romance.

On Paktor dating app:

  • 38% spike in new users compared to the same period last year
  • In-app’s engagement increased by 27% with users logging into the app more frequently throughout the day.

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For GaiGai, offline matchmaking arm:

  • GaiGai continues to see strong and sustained demand from singles.
  • There is a 20% increase in scheduled appointments for one-to-one profiling from February to May 2020.
  • We also see a surge in enquiries for our personalised coaching services. This is a sign that people are looking for self-improvement during this downtime.

On Goodnight dating app

  • There is a 30% spike in new users, compared to the last quarter in 2019.
  • We also observed a 120% increase in time spent on the app ever since the virus outbreak. Users are also browsing profiles more actively.
  • Across all markets, we see a 70% increase in the number of profiles users speak to. The duration of each call has also increased from an average of 50 minutes to 75 minutes.
  • Another interesting observation is the time of the day where we see high app usage. It used to be mostly night time from 7pm to 3am, after users end work or school but we are seeing another surge between 12-2pm since late February.

TVM: We understand that at GaiGai, you set updates for singles after meeting them face to face for a consultation. Amidst safe distancing and the ongoing circuit breaker, how have you evolved or adapted?

The team has already started pivoting our operations and services to the virtual space even before the circuit breaker kicked in. Our dating consultants have to now meet our prospective members online and it is essential that the personalised touch carries through the digital screens. A one-to-one consultation is usually intimate as the member reveals their past, their preferences and their outlook on life and dating so our relationship managers need to ensure that members still feel comfortable to do so virtually.

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As for physical dates, our matchmakers quickly looked for solutions to turn everything virtual. There was a bit of resistance at first, as singles were still grappling with the sudden change and insisted on face-to-face meetups. However, as months go by and with the introduction of virtual dating webinars, members are more accepting of virtual dates. We have highly positive reviews and we will continue to offer this option after circuit breaker ends.

GaiGai is known for our dating events where we usually work with established partners to create interesting speed dating experiences. With government measures in place, we had to put our events on hold but our team gamely took on the challenge of organising virtual events. So far, we have tried different types of events from board games nights, to tarot card readings to even a three-course meal set up, done virtually!

TVM: How are users reacting to virtual dates? Is the lack of real meet-ups fulfilled by virtual dating? Have you introduced any new features to compliment this new way of love amidst the coronavirus pandemic?

According to a member survey conducted at the beginning of Circuit Breaker in April, around 43% of our members are open to virtual dates. Most of them were unsure of how to date virtually and felt that meeting someone for the first time online does not count as a real date.

How to get ready for a virtual GaiGai

To drive adoption of virtual dates, GaiGai tried to educate members on the advantages of virtual dates and equip them with dating tips in the form of webinars, dating guides and videos. Instead of the usual wine-and-dine, we also introduced games or activities to engage both parties during the date.

While virtual dates will never replace physical dates, we have to accept that this would be the new norm for now. Over two months, we have around 78% of our members who are keen to go on virtual dates.

TVM: What measures have you taken for the benefit of the users and for the survival of the business amidst these unprecedented times?

We have to quickly adapt to the circumstances; whatever we used to do offline cannot be conducted in person now. We always ensure that our members are kept in the loop on our latest initiatives. This helps to build trust in our brand and members have been very understanding. Their patience gave us the breathing space to strategically pivot our business and operation to ensure survival and minimise disruption to our service.

TVM: Last year, you launched 15-second voice bios. What inspired that and how do you look at it right now– are users happy with the touch of voice in the virtual dating scene?

Paktor app was the first dating app in Asia to include voice bios in a dating profile. One of the key objectives is to enhance the user experience by adding an auditory dimension to a typical dating profile. With voice introduction, It is an alternative for users to express themselves and impress someone, beyond just photos. Your voice and what you say can be a big clue on compatibility.

Another objective is to provide the authenticity of each user profile. Voice memos afford a chance for users to get to know a person in a more intimate and detailed manner;  it provides ‘texture’ to an otherwise ‘flat’ dating profile with the usual photos and text bio. 

The adoption rate has been very promising and we see users recording really funny bios or even sing in their bios!

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TVM: With dating becoming more online that real and now even marriages seemingly becoming a virtual possibility– how do you think users’ expectations from dating apps are evolving?

Expectations don’t change that much, I think they are still using dating apps to widen their social circle and get a match with like-minded singles but there will be more singles who will turn to dating apps since there are lesser ways to socialise offline now.

TVM: How do you ensure data safety and privacy for your users?

We take a three-pronged approach through crowd-sourcing, machine learning and manual profile review system. Paktor app allows users to report other users who appear fake or spammy. Those accounts which receive multiple complaints are automatically banned. In addition, the app continues to refine algorithms based on user behaviour to automatically detect and ban ‘bad actors’.

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Paktor also customises algorithms based on historical gender user behaviour. For example, it has been observed that on average, females swipe right less frequently than males. Therefore, when a female user swipes too many times higher than the average female user, it is likely to be a fake account and will be detected by the app immediately.

To nip these fake accounts in the bud as quickly as possible, there is an in-house team of agents to diligently sift through accounts created every day to spot suspicious activities. Once these accounts have been banned, their emails, as well as the device they used to create the account will be recorded, and will automatically be removed if they try to create a new account using the same email and/or device.

TVM: What age groups of singles in Singapore are the most active on your dating apps?

 50% (19-25 years old) 50% (26-35 years old)

TVM: What do you think awaits the dating scene in a post-pandemic world? How will things change?

In the long run, we do not foresee a lasting impact on Singapore’s dating landscape as finding a compatible partner is still a priority to many people. People will simply be more accepting of virtual dates or virtual dating events as a way to meet someone for the first time.

TVM: Isolation and safe distancing can have adverse effects on mental health. How do you think dating apps can help combat that, especially for those who are single and on the lookout for someone special.

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I would say try my A, B and Cs when it comes to dating.

  1. Approach with the right attitude. Don’t rush into things to fill up that loneliness and don’t feel pressured to find the right one so just so that you can have a virtual companion during this circuit breaker.
  2. Be your salesperson. Always leave a positive impression. Some people might start whining about the current situation or turn interrogative while getting to know someone. Share your talents or hobbies, share a funny childhood memory!
  3. Change your fairytale mindset. Some singles might be hard on themselves when they can’t seem to meet the right one. This could be unhealthy and will become ingrained in your mind. Cultivate healthy expectations on dating – it all starts with a friendship, take the time to know someone through video calls, phone calls or even letters! Once you enjoy the process instead of being fixated on finding the right one, that’s when you can truly shine!