Myrna Plaisir Daramy, hot from the New York shows, looks at the ramifications of the latest bridal buying habits
In an industry that is deep-rooted in tradition, high-touch service, and saying “yes”, I find it very interesting that bridal retail owners are experiencing so many challenges when it comes to keeping up with consumer behaviour and the way brides are buying these days.
But if anything had the potential to rock the boat and change tradition, technology would be the thing to do it for several reasons – consistent rapid change, convenience, accessibility, and instant gratification. The sad reality is that although wedding dress trends and styles have changed over the years, the process of shopping for a dress in a brick and mortar store has remained pretty much the same.
When I first entered into this industry after experiencing my own bridal gown shopping experience in 2005, I couldn’t believe how untapped it was in terms of using the web! Even though magazines were the primary source that brides used at the time in order to learn about bridal fashion, designers or store information, there was a growing popularity of websites like TheWeddingChannel (acquired by TheKnot) and TheKnot (now acquired by WeddingWire ).
At the time, bridal salon websites were very basic and everything relied on a physical transaction like making a phone call or visting a store in order to get any real information. Everything seemed like it was top secret and the main source of any insight was the bridal salons.
While Generation X’ers, Millenials, and Generation Z brides have fully embraced the digital age and all that technology has had to offer in order to make wedding planning easier, bridal salon owners have struggled to adapt.
The overall consensus that I hear from bridal salon owners in the US is that while foot traffic has decreased, the amount of time it takes to convert brides into customers has increased.
Quick revenue-generators like trunk shows or sample sales are no longer performing like they used to and brides are now expecting special incentives every time they make an appointment or come into a store. Gone are the days of a one-appointment bride who makes her decision fairly easily, for she is now equipped with an arsenal of information and a plethora of options.
She is also no longer geographically restricted. Those options have now expanded into the online market space giving brides the alternative to skip the in-store gown shopping experience altogether and purchase a wedding dress in the comfort of her own home.
Initially, the sale of wedding dresses online was essentially targeted towards the budget-conscious bride looking to save money by buying a used or pre-owned wedding dress. E-sale is only a small slice of the $80 billion global bridal industry.
According to The Knot’s Real Weddings study which surveyed 14,000 couples married last year, only 4% of brides wore a used gown. There does appear to be a slight increase in interest, as Google searches for “used wedding dress for sale” has increased over the past five years.
E-commerce platforms like Bhldn, Anomalie, Bluethread Bridal, and Floravere along with designers like Amsale and Anne Barge are entering the e-commerce space in the hopes of shaking up the digital marketing space by offering brides online alternatives to buying pre-owned.
What does this all mean for bridal retail?
Although this information can seem extremely daunting and very overwhelming, I don’t want it to scare you. Instead, I want to view this as valuable insight that will assist you in making better decisions moving forward into 2020.
First off, I think it is important to give this segment of the bridal industry a little grace due to how unique it is. Wedding dress shopping is considered the most intimate of all shopping journey experiences and seems to fester up a lot of emotions. It is also the only segment that has to entertain an average shopping party size of between three and ten who are all expecting a glass of bubbly, even though only one person is converting into a customer – unless, that is, you are one of the salons that carry bridesmaids’ dresses and occasionwear in your offering.
Secondly, I think it is important to understand that shopping for THE dress has become a social outing that includes the bride, her mother, or anyone who she considers as part of her inner circle. It is a celebratory event that is now woven into the fabric of the wedding experience.
Last and most importantly, it is essential to focus on your strengths as a retail store and consistently promote those strengths. I believe it was Oprah Winfrey who said that the best business lesson she ever learned was to “run your own race.”
By running your own race and staying focused on what you do best, your business will continue to succeed. You need to provide insight that not only solves the problem the bride has (which is finding her dream dress,) but you need to go one step further and solve the problem’s problem (insecurity, vulnerability, trust, feeling overwhelmed).
Confirming your value
Despite the popularity of online sales, the majority of brides still want a personalised experience and will pay for a high-end, in real-life interaction.
Showcasing the experience your bride will have by shopping at your store needs to be relayed through the messaging of your website as well as any digital touchpoint.
As I mentioned in the last issue of Wedding Trader, focusing on how you can extend the customer experience digitally is key. Ignoring the customers’ desire for flexibility and affordability is no longer an option. That is why the path to surviving and thriving will be to deliver on the values that your brides want.
Be open to diversifying your offerings and providing flexible options for your customers such as allowing brides to try on at home. Connect with local platforms like Find Your Dream Dress and take notice of global opportunities like Style Locator, a bridal shop members-only online consignment solution that takes away the worry of going e-commerce, and guarantees more control and profit than traditional consignment.
By staying on top of what is happening online, creating consistent messaging about your value, and being open to diversifying your business model to incorporate an e-commerce option, your bridal retail salon will challenge any threat.