David’s Bridal may have lost to the experiential economy

The wedding dress retailer filed for bankruptcy for the second time in two years, but can it recover?
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David’s Bridal

· 4 min read

Spring weddings are in full swing, but unfortunately for David’s Bridal, things might be shutting down. If you’ve been keeping up with retail news lately (or glanced at our SKUs section) over the past few weeks, you probably know the wedding dress retailer known for its affordable prices and wide range of choices, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy…again.

You read that right: the second time since 2018. The retailer will also lay off 9,326 employees over four months, but will continue to honor outstanding orders as its stores remain open. Meanwhile, it will continue to explore sale options for all or some of its assets.

Since emerging from bankruptcy and restructuring its debt in 2019, David’s Bridal has focused on modernizing its business which included its marketing and retail strategies. It has also gone beyond serving its quintessential wedding customer by introducing lines for life events such as quinceañeras and proms.

“For us, it’s really giving that customer who is middle America that value,” David’s Bridal CMO Nancy Viall previously told Retail Brew about the quinceañera label. “We are vertically integrated, and we’re able to extend innovation and style and really have inclusiveness so that it’s not representing anyone’s line that you can get at all these different boutiques.”

Experience this: And while that seemed to have resonated with some consumers, its core wedding business likely suffered after the pandemic forced the retailer to shutter stores. It also continued to face challenges with societal shifts including Americans choosing to get married later in life, a drop in population growth, and an emphasis on other events in life beyond weddings, Michael Felice, associate partner in the communications, media, and technology practice of Kearney, told Retail Brew.

“The younger generations are typically thinking more experientially, as they’re looking at events,” he said. “For Gen X and baby boomers, success was often defined by possessions and assets that you were able to accumulate over your lifetime…now that you’ve shifted forward, that experiential piece is a bigger definition of success to a lot of newer generations. And so, I’m spending more money on the wedding itself, the destination I choose, than I am on tokens, or assets…that would sit in my closet for 40 years.”

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In fact, an Expedia survey found that over 74% of consumers value experiences over products. For a bride, that may mean a wedding DJ or a honeymoon over a wedding dress.

This does not mean wedding dress retailers are doomed. However, a company like David’s Bridal could benefit from a reorganization of its business model that fits modern consumer preferences. “You almost need to tie the wedding dress industry to formal events or life events,” Felice said, suggesting that companies need to figure out events that have an emotional connection for the consumer.”

“The emotional connection is beyond the transaction; the transaction is a piece, and the interaction with the bride with the attendees of that event becomes just as important. So how do I engage that customer before and after the purchase?” he added.

That means going beyond brick and mortar to focus on digital elements such as immersive physical and online experiences, introducing secondhand and rental platforms, partnerships and collaboration with other brands that offer unique experiences.

“[The bride] is on her phone six to seven hours a day, but she's only transacting for five to 10 minutes, so if I’m a brick-and-mortar [store], it’s a reason to bring her in, because she’s thinking about that wedding every moment of the day up until it,” he said.—JS

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.