When in doubt, bet on digital.
That arguably describes the recent acquisition of Seattle-based Blueprint Registry, an online universal gift registry, by David’s Bridal, the privately held wedding retail chain that traces its roots back to the first years after World War II. Terms were not disclosed, but the deal is the latest move bringing more digital commerce to the wedding industry, which is undergoing significant change in large part due to shifting consumer preferences.
Blueprint Registry enables consumers to add gifts from any retailer, import existing registries and create cash registries. It also offers visual registries, via which consumers create visual, room-by-room “blueprints” for those who want to purchase gifts. Retailers that appear in the highly curated catalog of goods include Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, Target, Williams-Sonoma and West Elm.
David’s Bridal is working through a period as stressful as wedding planning. Earlier this year, the chain’s debt was downgraded by Moody’s Investors Service, which also gave the retailer a negative rating. The retailer has a $520 million term loan due in Oct. 2019.
According to Moody’s analysts, David’s Bridal faced “the increased likelihood of a distressed exchange or other balance sheet restructuring over the next 12 to 18 months, given David Bridal’s lack of meaningful improvement in operating performance in 2017, high leverage and 2019 maturities.”
The trouble for the retailer comes amid widespread industry change, not the least of which is the increasing tendency of brides, grooms and guests to go online for their wedding day products and services. According to TheKnot.com, 92 percent of engaged couples used mobile devices to plan their weddings in 2017, compared to 42 percent in 2014. And as USA Today reported, that wedding site also said the average price of a wedding dress declined 3.5 percent between 2014 and 2017 — some of that no doubt the result of online competitors to longstanding retailers and department stores.
Various estimates said that at least 90 percent of wedding dresses are still bought in person. But “brides are also steering away from more traditional wedding dresses,” reads another report, an additional point that favors eCommerce, where online stores offer a seemingly endless variety of apparel, including relatively casual wedding dress styles.
Indeed, David’s Bridal has responded to that trend by offering a line of casual dresses with prices ranging from about $40 to $400, though such items are not as profitable as more expensive gowns. Globally, more brides also are opting for pre-owned wedding dresses, including those from thrift stores.
But online has advantages, especially as more consumers — including millennials, who are putting off marriage longer than previous generations — adopt the daily habits and expectations of digital commerce.
“Online retailers offer services such as virtual dressing rooms and live chats with consultants, and benefit from much lower overhead costs than traditional retailers,” James Thomson, IBISWorld analyst, told a reporter. “As a result, they will be able to offer consumers a wide range of bridal attire and accessories at highly competitive prices. This is expected to contribute to the closure of some brick-and-mortar wedding retailers in the current year.”
Of course, online retailers selling wedding products and services have Amazon to contend with. The eCommerce operator last year launched its handmade wedding shop, the company’s effort to attract savvy, time-strapped lovebirds. The specialized online store features wedding decorations such as signs, table décor, cake toppers, fake flowers and confetti; personalized invitations, programs and thank you cards; handcrafted accessories and jewelry; and gifts and favors for bridesmaids, groomsmen and guests.
The Amazon pitch? Items in that online store are handmade, a feature designed to appeal to younger consumers, given their expressed preference for unique, artisanal and authentic products.
The coming months will bring much more clarity about the fate of David’s Bridal, and whether its newest digital bet will pay off in time to satisfy creditors and consumers. But no matter what, the increasing involvement of digital retail in weddings appears a trend that will likely keep growing.