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Bridal Wear and Business Model Transformation: What do They Have in Common?


A lot! Hands up if you, or someone you know, still have their bridal dress that they used when they married in a box stashed somewhere in their house, never to be worn again? You do? So do many others. The bridal industry is undergoing significant transformation and is in need of a business model transformation – and indeed there is a lot to learn for all of us.

The Struggle of the Industry

“Overall, the bridal and wedding market has struggled somewhat over the past five or so years,” GlobalData Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders told Retail Dive in an email. “Generally, broad trends have been against it, including fewer people getting married and a casualization of weddings.”

According to Retail Dive, that has resulted in quite a shakeup in the industry. Most recently, according to them, the largest North American mass market player in the space, David’s Bridal, was downgraded anew last month, just four months after emerging from bankruptcy. Last year, Gap Inc. abandoned the bridal startup it had acquired two years before. J. Crew shut down its own bridal store and sales in 2016, after a little over a decade. Two years ago, bridal retailer Alfred Angelo, which ran 61 U.S. stores plus others abroad, and provided wholesale merchandise to more than 1,400 stores, abruptly shuttered.

So what is happening? Bridal couples today, while still wanting the pomp and ceremony of a wedding, are starting to see the traditional bridal dress as an unnecessary expense. Furthermore, the cost is prohibitive for many, ranging from $1000 to $20,000, with many of these dresses made in China to a standard fit and then needing further alteration at an additional cost when they turn up in Australia. And then, a marriage might easily take place at a beach, a barn or other site that is not a place of worship, and that affects what everyone wears. “Modern” is the most popular wedding-related search term, followed by “romantic” and “rustic”, according to the most recent Lyst Wedding Report, which also found that many brides look for dresses with pockets and fancy sneakers in lieu of heels, reports Retail Dive.

Business Model Transformation

The value proposition that once held true of the bridal industry no longer works like it used to. The industry needs a new model. Urban Outfitters’ Anthropologie, which launched its own bridal brand BHLDN, is among the specialty retail players entering the space. “The likes of ASOS, H&M, and Reformation have all launched collections, providing an alternative for brides and bridesmaids who don’t want to fork out big bucks over a dress they will (probably) only wear once”, according to retail and fashion technology firm Edited’s latest global bridal retail report. “New wedding product in the mass market has increased by 19% in the UK and 29% in the US, proving there is a demand for a lower priced product”.

Lessons to be learned

First, a value proposition that worked in the past may not work in the future. We know this but often do nothing about it.

“[T]he segment doesn’t have time to wait. It’s no use taking two years to catch up to where consumers are today because, in two years, consumers are going to be well down a different road entirely.

Ray Hartjen, Marketing Director, RetailNext

Second, an industry that is faltering has to disrupt itself, otherwise, players outside of that industry might just come along and disrupt it first. Like Amazon is doing in a vast number of markets.

Third, it’s not just about making things “cheaper” or “better” in the consumers’ eyes. It is about thinking differently!

“Change is well upon the industry. It’s led by consumers, as all retail changes now are,” Hartjen said. “The path to survival and an ability to thrive is to deliver successfully on the values, wants and desires of brides, their friends and their families. But, the segment doesn’t have time to wait. It’s no use taking two years to catch up to where consumers are today because, in two years, consumers are going to be well down a different road entirely.”

Sound familiar to your organisation’s business model? So what are you going to do about it?

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