David’s Bridal is betting on a new AI-powered concierge service to attract more brides-to-be to its 300-plus stores.
In 2017, the U.S. wedding dress industry reached $2.86 billion in sales, and it’s projected to be worth $3.23 billion by 2021, according to Statista. As the industry continues to grow, David’s Bridal is hoping to get ahead of competitors with a focus on an elevated in-store and digital experience.
It’s all part of a larger turnaround plan within David’s Bridal, launched after the company emerged from bankruptcy last January. Throughout the last year, the retailer has focused on improving the in-store experience, where roughly 90% of sales still happen. But to do that, the online experience needed to be elevated, as well — especially as more direct-to-consumer competitors enter the market with a focus on quality experiences and convenient shopping.
This week, David’s Bridal launched Zoey, an AI-powered concierge bot built through Apple Business Chat and powered by AI-powered messaging platform LivePerson. It connects brands and human customer service agents via bots. The move into bots is interesting, considering the hype built up around chatbots about five years ago that later fell flat. But as technology has improved, chatbots have regained popularity, especially among luxury brands.
“We know that the customer is telling us that this is a really stressful situation for her, whether it’s planning a wedding or picking the perfect prom dress. By quieting the chaos and having a seamless hand-off between digital and brick-and-mortar, we can really connect the conversation,” said Carroll. When customers use the chatbot, David’s Bridal will be able to take any questions or insights communicated in the conversation and pass those along to a stylist. That way, when the client goes in for an appointment booked through the app, the stylist is briefed on what that customer is looking for.
Floravere started in 2016 as a DTC wedding dress company, sending out “bride boxes” when customers ordered a wedding dress. Boxes came with a measuring tape, dress clips and various extra goodies like champagne-flavored gummy bears. The company gained early financial backing from Felicis Ventures and Serena Williams, and then opened a flagship space in New York City in April. Launched in 2016, bridal company Anomalie is using technology to help customers build a personalized wedding gown from 4 billion potential dress permutations, and it’s all done online.
Both online-first companies, Floravere and Anomalie have offered texting options for customer service purposes since their early days to bring a more personal touch to their digital brands. It’s a tool direct-to-consumer brands across industries have adopted in the last few years, opting to text rather than email. As texting has caught on, especially within bridal, David’s Bridal hopes its text-based AI bot will set the company ahead of some of those competitors.
About 18 months ago, the company started testing text messaging as a customer service tool, promoted on the company’s website and contact page. Holly Carroll, David’s Bridal vp of customer service and contact center operations, said within a few months, 45% of customer service requests were coming through text.
With Zoey, customers can book in-store appointments, place orders and get connected with stylists to answer any questions. Now, when a customer uses either Apple Business Chat or messages the brand directly through Apple Messages, the chatbot prompts the user with five options: make or change an appointment, returns, order status, help placing order and all other inquiries.
Once a conversation is started with Zoey, brides can text any time of day and pick conversations back up at any time. They can also ask Siri to text David’s Bridal, making the process simple, Carroll said.
“If she needs expert help from a sizing perspective, wants to place an order or has a customer service question, Zoey can route her to a human,” said Carroll.
By investing in text services, David’s Bridal has already saved 30% on contact center operating costs. It frees up funds for more innovative projects, like an online planning toolkit for customers, which comes with a vision board and a six-page wedding checklist, said James Marcum, CEO of David’s Bridal. Those features started rolling out earlier in the year.
“There are a lot of benefits behind the scenes, but the real benefit is relevancy today, in a digital world where David’s historically was considered to be kind of out of touch. This is all part of that transformation,” said Marcum.
The company has already updated all of its email messaging to customers, calling out the new Zoey feature. The feature is also called out on the David’s Bridal website homepage and its “contact us” page. In addition, David’s Bridal will be promoting the service organically across its social media channels.
“This is a very intuitive service. We will very quickly be launching a feature where, if you do a Google search now and go to a store’s page, you can click on the phone number and have the option to chat, rather than call,” said Marcum.