When David’s Bridal entered bankruptcy in 2019, the customer service experience had proved to be a significant barrier to growth. Online sales didn’t match in-store pricing. Returns couldn’t be made in-store. Google was littered with one- and two-star store reviews.
“We were doing all these crazy things, like one-day flash sales online that we didn’t offer in the store. And the bride’s standing there with her phone. It was such a horrible experience, and the stylists had to defend it,” said CEO Jim Marcum.
But since emerging from Chapter 11, the brand has focused on improving its omnichannel customer experience. Its latest strategy is Pearl, an app-based wedding planning vendor marketplace where brides can scout out information about venues, photographers, caters and other services.
For vendors that want to be listed on Pearl, plans range from $49 a month to $119 a month following a free introductory membership. The price point aims to be competitive with established marketplaces like The Knot and Zola — and it hopes to leverage the wide audience that David’s Bridal has developed. It will be marketed to a newly-collected list of at least two million loyalty members from the Diamond program that launched in December 2020, with the potential to reach 20 million shoppers, the brand says.
Marcum said Pearl has been in the works since early 2020 as part of revamping the brand’s customer service.
“It’s not only in the store, it’s ‘What’s her e-commerce experience like when you first come into the website?’” Marcum said. “This was a natural evolution.”
A privately held company, David’s Bridal wouldn’t share its revenue or sales figures. But the company last reported in May 2021 that it received a $70 million loan from CPPIB Credit Investments, which matures next year. Since then, the company has opened several new locations, launched a loyalty program and expanded its lower-price point offerings with the “Little White Dress” collection.
Modern Retail spoke with Marcum about how the launch of Pearl furthers David’s Bridal customer strategy in the ever-competitive, high consideration bridal market. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
With so many other services on the market, why is now the moment for David’s Bridal to launch a vendor service?
Two-thirds of all brides in America, close to 70% in surveys, see David’s Bridal in their consideration. Ninety percent will come through our channel at some point, on the website, see what we’ve got, that kind of thing.
This next evolution of where we are now, I think it’s a phenomenal opportunity to start to fill a hole to all these other vendors. We have the bride’s attention, we have her in the journey. I think we can truly be differentiate from our “competition” in the planning sites. I think our functionality is every bit as good as theirs, and it will be better over time as we continue to develop.
But our customer acquisition cost is much lower than theirs and, hopefully, we can pass that value to all these vendors. It’s not like the way we get her into our pipeline is paid and paid and paid.
How will Pearl appeal to vendors over other marketplaces?
In a very short amount of time, we already have two million Diamond members, and 90% of those members have transacted. And remember, 90% of brides come through our funnel. They’ll see Pearl. So when you talk to vendors, the excitement around that is terrific.
Are you expecting the service to generate any significant revenue or change sales patterns from brides?
We don’t believe it’s going to be a loss leader, but we’re also not building revenue projections in here. That’s not important to us right now, believe it or not. What’s important to us is our relevancy to the bride. How does David Bridal stay top of mind awareness? It’s relevant, it’s acceptable to the modern bride — the younger millennial and that age group. And I think this is all part of that journey. And the more successful we can be in that, the more at bats I think we will get to maintain ourselves.
How else are you developing an omnichannel strategy at David’s Bridal?
Our online customer service is now 24/7 and that’s a new development. During the last 18 months, we’ve introduced AI and chatbots, so while you’re working through the sites, if you have any questions, you can start to engage live with operators.
We’ve also got virtual stylists. So if you’re in a market where you’re not close to a store, and you want to jump on and talk about ideas around color, talk about styles, we have virtual stylists. We launched it during Covid. We can bring assortments and dresses right into it right into the conversation.
In light of rising costs of living, how is demand in the bridal industry? Have you seen any sales changes in recent months?
I still think we’re a little bit in a Covid-affected environment. Everybody read the article that said ‘2022 is going to be the record year of weddings,’ because all the 2021 and 2020 weddings got bumped into 2022. But what’s interesting is it’s not going to be a record year, it’s going to be a longer tail. We’re seeing 2022, 2023 and 2024 building out.
One thing the industry does rely on is venues. Capacity has been probably the biggest challenge for the bridal industry. All those 2021 weddings went into 2022, so if you got engaged at the end of 2021, you were probably looking at 2023. If you got engaged in 2022 these past few months, you’re already looking at 2024. So we’re seeing planning cycles elongate.