Marrying Technology With Brand Power

Awedding may be a couple’s dream of love and happiness, but preparing for the special day can be a nightmare. Flowers, invitations, guest lists, gowns, color themes, photography and planning a honeymoon-the to-do list can seem never-ending. And for many brides, it often becomes overwhelming. Going above and beyond the usual calling for a retailer in the bridal business is Conshohocken, Pa.-based David’s Bridal. Called the nation’s largest wedding-gown seller, the retailer is being sold by Federated Department Stores to private- equity firm Leonard Green & Partners, L.P. for $750 million.

But to classify David’s Bridal as a mere seller of formal and bridal gowns would be a disservice. The company has begun to transform itself into a one-stop resource for wedding planning with the help of a brilliant marketing plan than builds loyal customers and expands revenue.

Given that today’s brides are spending hours surfing the Internet to plan their special day, the retailer is going where the brides are. As the chain follows this trend, brides are being attracted to the many highly effective, content-rich innovations taking place on David’s Bridal’s Web sites.

David’s Bridal party: David’s Bridal started as an elegant East Coast bridal salon in 1950. While the chain has grown to more than 250 locations nationwide, it has not forgotten its mission: to provide its brides with quality, selection, service and value. The chain is credited with revolutionizing the bridal retail industry. By filling its stores with a vast selection of designer wedding gowns in every size, eager brides can try on high-quality gowns, as well as take home their dream dress the same day.

Choosing a wedding gown is only a piece of the wedding-planning puzzle, however. Once she finds the gown of her dreams, a bride still struggles with how to sort out the rest of her wedding-day details and stay on schedule.

Word of mouth is still the foremost motivator for women in their mid-20s planning a first wedding, according to Veronica Smith-Katz, VP of strategic partnerships at David’s Bridal. However, this Echo Boom generation “is very tech-savvy and [the Web] is what they’re using,“ she said.

Realizing that brides are finding Web applications very handy, David’s Bridal saw a ripe opportunity. For example, the typical wedding (which costs nearly $28,000) can be stretched into an extended branding and selling opportunity during the wedding-planning period, according to Katz.

By revamping services available on its Web site,, the chain hopes to alleviate its customers’ stresses and further build its brand as a one-stop wedding resource.

Planning partnerships: Rather than forcing an already anxious bride to find the ideal florist, photographer or videographer, for example, David’s Bridal is enlisting the help of retail partners. As brides-to-be visit the homepage of, they are invited to click on the “Wedding Planning” icon.

There, brides are directed to 12 category portals that connect them to strategic partner sites, such as 1-800- and photo-services site,

“We’re really adding value to the customer’s experience-both on-line and in-store-because we’re offering her planning and advice,” said Katz.

Not only does David’s Bridal get the benefit of cross-promoting its partners’ bridal products, but the retailer can build up its revenue through sales of its own services or accessory products, including color-coordinated wedding invitations and keepsake gifts. Becoming a one-stop resource also keeps a bride from searching, and ultimately, spending her money elsewhere. This translates to more revenue for David’s Bridal and its partners.

Separate from the planning section of the David’s Bridal Web site is an exclusive personalized service site called The site, which was scheduled to launch in late December by in partnership with David’s Bridal, is a lifetime wedding-planning and memory site for bridal customers.

Each bride-to-be who registers with David’s Bridal is offered a 30-day free trial of the site. Then they are entitled to a 50% discount to purchase the Web planning tool for a one-time fee of $29.99.

“There are about 50 steps in the program for planning a wedding and it walks you through every one,” said Katz. “That site will be there to commemorate her wedding for the rest of her life, or as long as she’d like it to be out there [on line].“

Bridal customers receive information via e-mail on how to activate the site after registering with David’s Bridal. The site can be used for a gift registry, wedding planning and a memory album.

“One of the frustrations we saw with other [wedding-planning] sites is you get lost and bored, to be honest. We made it child’s play and fun. It’s also a portal to wedding resources from dresses to flowers, so she shouldn’t have to go anywhere else,“ said Henry Chamberlain, CEO of

The site is personalized based on the information the bride inputs. User-friendly features make it easy for her to import her e-mail address book for invitations, or tune into a clock that counts down her to-do list based on her wedding date. Unlimited storage also helps her upload digital photos, video and music, and create a virtual wedding album.

“Our whole philosophy is sharing memories forever,”

Chamberlain said. “Our Web site is available forever and that’s completely unique. [It’s] far more advanced than anyone else is offering, but [the album is] easy to create.”

The Web site uses a platform, the standard today for corporate Web sites. The site also uses a Web development technique called AJAX. Short for asynchronous JavaScript and XML, AJAX is often used when creating interactive Web applications and featuring sophisticated online graphics. Chamberlain said the Web design technology also saves the user from having to input multiple pieces of information, and constantly having to save changes.

“AJAX allows you to upload a picture, and change the text, the color scheme and design, all on the same page. It’s very quick and cutting edge,” he noted.

Data is also backed up in three locations should there be a problem with a system failure at any one location.

Though most site users are likely David’s Bridal customers, anyone can sign up for a trial of the wedding album and planner, then pay the regular price of $59.95 for lifetime usage. The site provides a wealth of free content related to wedding planning, including links to the David’s Bridal site, by clicking on the “Dress Finder” icon.

Forever a bride: David’s Bridal continues to enhance content on its own Web site as well. The newest feature in the works is called “Dress Your Wedding.”

Similar to virtual paper dolls, this Web tool will enable users to mix and match dress styles and accessories directly on their computer screen. The virtual models, which include the bride, groom and wedding party, can be customized by hair color, skin tone, size and other distinguishing features. A bride can even choose background scenes, such as a beach, to get an idea of how her ensemble or color scheme would look in a natural setting. This new service was slated to launch late last month.

David’s Bridal is also taking advantage of Web-based technology in its stores. At 15 test stores, the retailer is piloting a staffed wedding-services desk at which a consultant uses a computer station to assist customers with ancillary purchases, including invitations and gifts.

Debbie Howell

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