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The bridal industry, one of the many markets that rely on in-person customer experiences, was not spared by Covid-19.
However, “snowmageddons, hurricanes, Covid, murder hornets — nothing can cancel love,” said Kelly Cook, chief marketing and IT officer at David’s Bridal, on the latest episode of the Glossy Podcast.
“It’s a fun time to be in our business,” said Cook, who spent a year facilitating virtual wedding gown and bridal face mask shopping. She expects a 25-40% increase in weddings in 2021, “now that vaccines are out and the country’s opening up.”
The height of the pandemic last year did not equate to a full stop in the bridal industry, however. While “about 10% of the brides just canceled their weddings,” according to Cook, “out of the remaining 90%, about half of them already moved their weddings into this year. The remaining half moved their weddings into fall of .”
For the brides that did get married during the pandemic, David’s Bridal was quick to adapt to their needs with solutions, like the production of “70,000 [face] masks in all colors,” as well as improvements to its technology, according to Cook.
“We’ve modernized and digitized our company,” said Cook. “Within a two-week period, we implemented curbside pickup and we implemented virtual stylists.” The latter was possible through partnerships with augmented reality-focused company Vertebrae, as well as Zoey, an automated concierge system, she said.
“We sold $1 million in gowns just through text,” said Cook. “We wouldn’t have been able to do any of that if we had not had a culture here of serving her and being relentless about solving problems.”
Additionally, David’s Bridal hosted its first virtual fashion show in May 2020. It also found success with a YouTube Live channel “of nothing but wedding videos,” as well as with new TikTok and Instagram Reels accounts.
Customers have benefitted from the changes, as well — particularly those who have signed up for the company’s new Diamond Loyalty Program, which has earned 500,00 members since launching seven months ago.
“It’s not a loyalty program for the number of times you get married. It’s a loyalty program around everybody at your wedding,” said Cook. “We launched it on December 8 of last year and have had 55 people earn enough for a honeymoon.”
As for the future of David’s Bridal, “the power of our store [is] in making everyone feel absolutely stunning and beautiful in whatever they’re wearing,” said Cook. “The trend is that people are going to want more human interaction and want to see more humanity in brands because we are becoming so digital.”
The human touch of the bridal shopping experience is not fully replicable via digital. Until life returns to normal, Cook emphasized the importance of David’s Bridal “partnering with people that make the [wedding] process easier,” such as WeightWatchers, Black Tux, popular venue Rustic Wedding Chic and micro-influencers.
“We partner with the right micro-influencer, and we give her the product, and all of the content is in her own voice and style,” said Cook. She called out that David’s Bridal has featured “employees, friends, and family” in shoots, in place of models, since last year.
“It’s authentic and real, and it’s representative of who we are as a brand,” said Cook.
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
The casualization of the wedding
“One of the things that we found last year was that the styles and trends started to change. There was a casualization of the wedding, in general, but it wasn’t necessarily all casualized. For example, we still had girls getting married in a ‘mini-mony’ and wanting the big ball gown, or getting married in a big ceremony and [wanting] a little white dress with a 20-foot veil and high heels. The fun part is [that] the only rule the bride has is to break them. She can do anything she wants. We had two women who got married that wore our white suits. We had a guy that won one of our honeymoons — he was our seventh honeymoon winner — who a bridal gown and all of his male bridesmaids all wore bridal gowns.”
The shrinking of the dress shopping timeline
“The planning… is probably the biggest change, because for years and years, the business had a history that would suggest that she gets engaged and, two months later, she gets an appointment; one month later, she’s finding her bridesmaids; and seven months later, she’s getting married. It was this very elongated, 9-, 10-, 11-months process that blew up — a hand grenade got thrown in that completely. What’s interesting is — I don’t know if it’s a cultural shift, because we were all at home for six or seven months, but — the planning process which has shrunk hasn’t expanded back to where it was. With all of the appointments that we have in our stores right now, about half of them are getting married in 90 days. That never would have happened before. It’s probably because we were stuck at home and now everything’s faster: We Uber Eats our food, we do curbside pickup for our groceries, we’re not going to the grocery store as much. But I also think it’s because we have 300,000 gowns, and we have gowns available because we own our end-to-end supply chain. It was just sort of serendipitous, all around, for us; we actually thrived very much during Covid.”
Bringing the wedding gown ‘try-on’ experience to living rooms across America
“How do you give her that rich experience? That was our biggest challenge. How the heck do we give her all of the emotion and the love and the excitement, and the beauty and the laughter and the tears? And [offer] all that stuff that happens in an appointment when you find a dress? How the heck are we going to do that when she’s sitting in her living room? So we implemented virtual stylists [with] augmented reality. We had to figure out a way to get the dress to her, because that’s part of the love as she sees the gown — [we needed] to fill that gap. So we partnered with a company called Vertebrae and implemented augmented reality on our top wedding dress styles. So [the bride] could actually take her phone, go to the dress on the website, hit AR and render the gown directly into her living room. What was amazing about that is that the photogrammetry process was so detailed, you actually could feel like you could touch the beads. It wasn’t just a flat image; she could actually walk around the rendered dress in her living room as a completely VR experience. We thought at the time, ‘Oh, this will be a Covid solution.’ It ended up not being that. She loves it so much [that] we’ve expanded it into 300 SKUs instead of the 150 we had before, and we’ve expanded it into shoes and accessories.”