David’s Bridal focuses its turnaround plan on customization and digital marketing

David’s Bridal is ramping up its comeback plan, after emerging from bankruptcy in January.

In November 2018, David’s Bridal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, bringing its $750 million debt down by $400 million. On June 24, the company welcomed a new CEO, James Marcum, whose mission is to win over younger customers. To do that, he is focused on improving the in-store experience, shifting the brand’s marketing budget away from traditional media and providing tools for brides throughout the wedding planning process.

“David’s Bridal represents a phenomenal opportunity. It’s 25% of the bridal industry today, as far as gowns. If you look at gowns under $1,500, it’s 38% of the industry today in terms of units [sold], and we have approximately 300 stores throughout the U.S. This is one business where I believe the footprint is a significant asset,” said James Marcum, CEO of David’s Bridal.

While the company has a strong physical retail presence, Marcum said the company wasn’t doing enough to create a positive in-store experience for shoppers, especially as it ramped up e-commerce in response to competitors such as Asos, Anthropologie’s Bhldn and emerging players like Floravere. A number of confusing policies around the David’s Bridal direct-to-consumer business led to unhappy shoppers. If customers bought an item online, it was shipped almost immediately and could be returned. But if a customer bought in-store, there was typically a long lead time to receive the gown and returns weren’t allowed.

“It really created a lot of friction in the company,” said Marcum. “Brides got confused, and the experience became somewhat broken.” Now, in-store purchases can be exchanged (but still cannot be returned for a full refund) and are available for brides to take home sooner.

Less than 10% of David’s Bridal’s bridal sales come through e-commerce. With that in mind, the in-store experience will be crucial for the brand moving forward, said Dan Neiweem, co-founder and principal at digital consulting firm Avionos.

“David’s Bridal is going to have to figure out how they make that a true experience for the bride-to-be, and then they need to think about: How do I now protect the person from going in and taking advantage of the experience, but then going to purchase somewhere else?” said Neiweem. While most of David’s Bridal’s merchandise is exclusive to the retailer, including its collaborative collections with Vera Wang and Zac Posen, brides can still find similar styles online, sometimes for lower costs. One way the brand is already doing that is through offering 10% discounts on entire purchases when brides make a shopping appointment online.

In terms of improving the in-store experience, David’s Bridal rolled out a new feature over the summer called MyCustomer, which is a questionnaire brides complete online before an in-store appointment. There, she can select favorite dress silhouettes and preferred necklines; what general style, from romantic to classic, she likes; and how much she wants to spend. She also provides her dress size, bra size and shoe size. With that information, the sales associates can then provide a more customized fitting experience in the store, handpicking dresses for the bride based on her style, size and preferences.

But before brides go to physical stores to try on dresses, most are turning to the web or social media for inspiration, Marcum said. To get the brand in front of potential customers, David’s Bridal is shifting its marketing budget away from television and print and focusing instead on paid digital. Marcum declined to share how much of its budget will focus on digital versus traditional, but said a big focus will be paid search and paid social. Marcum also wants to focus on organically growing David’s Bridal’s social channels, mainly Instagram where the brand has just over 360,000 followers. Part of that strategy includes featuring real customers on their wedding day on Instagram. David’s Bridal plans to hire a dedicated team to focus on the brand’s social media strategy and up the brand’s presence across social channels.

“[David’s Bridal] identified that its e-commerce experience wasn’t working, which was an important first step. The company needs to understand its customer’s journey and curate relevant experiences across all digital and physical touch points. They need to display their products in more ways than just endless thumbnails in a cookie-cutter e-commerce experience,” said Darin Archer, chief strategy officer at Elastic Path.

In addition to focusing on discovery and the in-store experience, David’s Bridal is also working on building out partnerships to help brides through the entire planning process, from engagement to honeymoon. In August 2018, David’s Bridal acquired gift registry platform Blueprint Registry, where brides can create a gift registry for free. This June, Blueprint Registry and David’s Bridal added a free wedding website builder feature, as well.

“The biggest opportunity for the brand is not only focusing on a bride, but focusing on her entire event,” said Marcum.

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