Pandemic or not, people are still getting married. And social distancing or not, they’re still having weddings – although the scale and scope of them are radically different than even the most aggressive Bridezilla could imagine. Caught somewhere in the middle is a category that has had a tough run this lost summer of 2020: bridal retailers.
According to wedding planning and news site The Knot, COVID-19 has impacted hundreds of thousands of weddings nationwide since the start of the pandemic in March. Among those who originally had weddings scheduled for July-November 2020, 42 percent have already planned or postponed their celebrations, and 51 percent haven’t made any changes just yet. Only 7 percent of couples are canceling their weddings altogether.
“For those with upcoming weddings or who are newly engaged, we are seeing wedding planning continue, which right now includes working closely with one’s vendor team to ensure upcoming celebrations will abide by any social distancing guidelines that are, or will be, in place in the location where a couple plans to wed, with an increased focus on the health and safety of everyone attending the festivities,” The Knot Senior Editor Esther Lee told PYMNTS. “While the spread of COVID-19 continues to disrupt wedding celebrations and social events nationwide, we’re seeing many couples opt to host a minimony, which is a smaller wedding ceremony with just the couple or with close family and friends in person or virtually, to celebrate and honor their original wedding date in advance of a larger, postponed reception.”
A minimony, as the name suggests, is hardly as lucrative as its bigger cousin, matrimony – and that difference has taken a bite out of bridal retail. For brides, the dress is the centerpiece of the event – and with scale being cut so drastically, some are actually coining a new fashion phrase: “the little white dress.”
“It definitely has increased because of the pandemic,” said Kamika Kiper, manager of David’s Bridal in Los Angeles, regarding sales of simpler designs. The wedding gown retailer, America’s largest, also has its own “little white dress” category.
It’s tough to find data on exactly how badly the bridal industry has been hurt, but losing at least 42 percent of revenue to postponement is tough to take for any business. David’s Bridal filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and then exited in January 2019. So far, the company has been aggressive about pushing its business forward. In late June, it expanded virtual video appointments via Zoom to entire bridal parties, after introducing the service for brides only in May.
The company has also partnered with payment option provider Affirm to help customers who need to pay for their dresses and accessories over time. The buy now, pay later (BNPL) service will be available online as well as at David’s 300-plus stores.
Smaller retailers are focused on safety as well as agility. Appointment shopping will become the norm, according to many sources, and destination weddings will fall by the wayside – at least until the pandemic has passed or been mitigated. Those are just some of the many trends that Lee believes will stick in the bridal space. Virtual elements have also increased in popularity as a way to involve those who can’t attend in-person: In fact, 7 percent of couples who originally had weddings planned between April and August of 2020 said they now plan to incorporate virtual technology into their postponed events.
In addition to the minimony, The Knot has also seen new event formats come to life due to the pandemic, including microweddings, shift weddings and multi-weddings, which ultimately help couples comply with the social distancing regulations that are in effect at their chosen wedding locations. A microwedding is a smaller wedding with less than 50 guests, usually consisting of just the couple, immediate family and very close friends. A “shift wedding,” on the other hand, allows couples to celebrate with loved ones similar to how they originally planned, but in shifts.
“For example, the festivities would take place at the original venue with all wedding vendors, but guests would celebrate in shifts to comply with social distancing guidelines and event capacity restrictions,” Lee explained. “Plus, the venue cleans and sanitizes between each group’s arrival. Similar to the shift wedding, another option for couples is the multi-wedding, which allows them to invite different groups of guests to existing wedding events, including the rehearsal dinner, ceremony, reception and morning-after brunch, over the course of several days.”
One of the more compelling business models in the wedding space over the past few years has come from Anomalie. The direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand has added planning and design tools to its site, with a focus on maintaining its supply chain during the pandemic.
“Find opportunity and optimism in chaos,” advised Leslie Voorhees Means, CEO of Anomalie. “This year has obviously been challenging and horrific in so many ways, but in many ways, it has been our team’s finest hour. We have customers — brides — who are facing a lot of anxiety right now with uncertain wedding dates and store closures. Anomalie’s model, which allows brides to design a dress from home, can bring joy to brides during this time, and our team has leaned into that. We also realized early on that our supply chains were thankfully unaffected by COVID, so we were able to offer a delivery guarantee, which brought even more certainty to brides during a very uncertain moment.”