Retail

Is Bridal Retail Ready For Digital Disruption?

As spring is getting underway in earnest nationwide, wedding season is ramping up. In a big way. According to the reigning data experts on the subject – The Knot – a little under 70 percent of the people who are going to get married in the United States this year will be getting married between April and October.

And those folks will be spending an awful lot of money to do so, according to data also from the Knot in their annual Real Wedding Survey. Money may not buy love, as the Beatles observed, but sanctifying that love with a party for all your closest friends and family (all 139 of them, according to the data) will cost a little over $32,000 on average.

For those keeping score at home, that is a $1,400 increase over last year — and $5,500 over the last five years. And those are just the averages. In New York City, the tab apparently averages out at around $82,299, while in Chicago the proper celebration of eternal love and fealty runs at about $61,265.  Weddings are spendy — and getting spendier in almost every measurable category, according to The Knot survey of 18,000 couples getting married this year.

Venues are running around $14,ooo a piece, the engagement ring is a $5,000 investment and the average price for saying “yes” to the dress runs around $1,600.

And that 4-figure dress cost is interesting in light of another emerging trend in retail — the apparent emergence and flooding of the market with lower-cost and discount wedding dress options.

While J. Crew opened the door on this with its bridal line in 2004 — and eventual store connect boutiques and eCommerce shops — of late the marketplace has gotten much more active with H&M, ModCloth, Amazon and ASOS all pushing their cheaper, faster and “off-the rack” wedding dress into the marketplace. These dresses are generally run for three-figure amounts (instead of the average four) and are available within days, as opposed in the 12-16 weeks most customers spend door-to-door getting perfectly fit into the perfect dress.

Is the “traditional” bridal industry in trouble? Some think so — and wonder if the eTail or hybrid eCommerce/physical models might be the beginning of the end for bridal buying as we know it today. Wedding “experts” remain unconvinced and point to those ever rising numbers in wedding spending as an indication that getting a discount in some contexts is just not what the customer is really looking for.

And as is always the case, there’s a little bit of right on both sides, but perhaps too quick a move to discount those faster, cheaper and more digitally enabled options on behalf of those wedding experts.

Capturing The Coming Customer 

ModCloth’s entrance into bridal was not, according to the firm, an attempt to push their customers to a new place, but was instead an instance of their customers pushing them. Increasingly they were seeing their white and ivory dresses show up on brides — and a variety of their fashion appearing on bridal parties. So they decided to go all in and offer branded wedding gowns (starting at $150) along with a pile of accessories, shoes and a bit of everything wedding.

“It just seemed like the market was there,” Nicole Haase, ModCloth’s vice president and general merchandising manager, told Retail Dive when asked why the retailer decided to jump into wedding dresses. “All of our members were posting themselves in our dresses [on social media] at backyard, city hall, or traditional weddings — it just seemed like the natural thing they were telling us that they wanted.”

Wedding dresses in the past, explained Brittanny Carter, industry analyst at IBISWorld, were sort of a tricky proposition for retailers. Consumers when they buy them will buy big, but most people who aren’t Elizabeth Taylor don’t shop for all that many wedding dresses, so taking up floor space with them really wasn’t a sensible move for anyone but a specialty retailer.

“Online shopping has been a complete game-changer for retailers because they can now access brides-to-be across the world with only one distribution facility.”

And that access has proven tempting for a lot of retailers, particularly those that can leverage a strong online presence to get those wedding items out there.

But will consumers be drawn to it?

The experts aren’t so sure.

Maybe Customers Like Difficulty And Expense Sometimes 

“In my experience, we aren’t really seeing brides actually wearing those gowns to the extent that you might think,” noted Kim Forrest, an editor for the WeddingWire blog.

“Brides are still going, from what we see, to traditional salon experiences to have that once in a lifetime experience — trying on dresses and working with consultants to have that personal one-on-one experience.”

Forrest further noted noted that WeddingWire covers hundreds of weddings per year – and so far they aren’t seeing the “off-the-rack” or eTail-based wedding-wear very prominently, though she does note it is still relatively new.

But even with time, she’s not sure that outside of a small market of brides, there is really a large market demand, because most brides plan their weddings far in advance and find the whole picking and saying “yes” to the dress part highly engaging.

“There might be a bride on a really tight deadline who may want to get married next week and need something immediately. That’s a niche that these types of markets might sell to. But the average timeline is 13 months. People tend to plan in advance.”

Forrest does think the line has promise, particularly as brides and bridal parties are looking for auxiliary wear for weddings, like rehearsal dinner outfits, or after-party dresses.

“We’re always seeing new designers in the scene, there’s always something new and there are always going to be new players on the scene,” Forrest noted. “We’ll see. It’s all about having options and that’s what this is about.”

The Hidden Diversity In The Bridal Market 

Averages are tricky things, particularly if one does not know how exactly how that average was come by. Weddings, as a rule, show a surprising amount of volatility in prices for every buyer, at every price point.

“When I see that $1,600 number — I mean that is really an average between brides that are paying $100,000 for couture gowns – and brides that are coming in and paying $500 or less,” said Claire Daniels, of Urbannella Bridal in Richmond, VA.

Daniels notes these moves from mass retailers and online outfits is very eye-catching and a little worrisome, precisely because wedding prices are so widely ranging.

“There are probably very few $30,000 weddings in the United States – I think we really plotted it what you would see is something like a curve away from the number – with a lot of DIY wedding for a lot less. The millennial Pinterest brides who are making their own floral arrangements – and then another clumping up in bigger weddings past the $100K price point where there are the really big gestures like professional social media managers and fireworks displays.”

“For every Kim Kardashian who gets married for a million, there have to be a lot of brides who get married for less than $100 to balance the average at $30,000.”

So as spring is springing and wedding are popping up like flowers, maybe it is time to take a closer look at weddings —and what that average really is.

It might just be that ModCloth and Co. are quietly creating a new normal for saying “yes” to the dress.

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