We asked brides what problems they’d faced when shopping for their wedding dress, and Abi Neill explains how you can handle them in your boutique
Like it or not, most Millennial and Generation X brides want a VIP bridal shopping experience and a stress- free journey from boutique to aisle. Granted that’s not always easy to facilitate...
You can read more in our Nov/Dec 19 issue here.
We all know that brides want to feel ‘special’ and a lot of savvy bridal business pros will agree when I say that they deserve it. Brides of today want to be celebrated and they want to shop at boutiques who genuinely care and who value their custom. They hold the purchasing power and in the face of countless retail options they’ll opt to buy from boutiques that go the extra mile and reach out genuinely to them.
Bridal Buyer and Confetti magazine have collected some valuable research from brides regarding their experience on offer at the bridal independents of today. Some of it makes for uncomfortable reading.
Here we share some feedback but, before we bare all, it’s worth noting that there was also applause from brides who championed boutiques that went the extra mile and shared inspiring examples of what they loved. They highlighted stores who demonstrated professionalism and knowledge, memorable shopping experiences and customer service of the highest order.
Hopefully some of what follows will help. You may like to consider sharing this with your team – it could serve as the basis of a great training session or, at the very least, stimulate some debate about how you can continue to win the hearts of brides in your boutique…
Replicating that Pretty Woman scene where Julia Roberts’s self-worth is torn from her when she’s disregarded and told everything is too expensive for her is best avoided. The lesson is, of course, don’t judge a book by its cover! Asking brides what their ‘preferred spend is’ or ‘in an ideal world what’s the absolute max’ can be a good way of extracting crucial information without crudely asking what their ‘budget’ is.
Personally we like to know this at our shop pre-appointment so that we’re confident we can tick all of their boxes including the monetary one during the sales process. If you’re asking the budget question to suss out and qualify if that bride is suitable for an appointment that’s fine, too, but you need to craft an appropriate reply which manages their expectations and doesn’t make them feel like a second class citizen. In short; take care not to offend or undermine.
If you advertise that you stock dresses from £800 it’s wise to make sure you have a good selection of gowns from £800. Alternatively, manage a conversation that communicates your collection’s price range before the appointment.
If a bride says she wants to spend a max of £1,000 and you book her an appointment (without comment) only to have your top sales consultant style her in dresses from your lowest price point of £1,500, she’ll either fall in love with a gown and start saving or potentially take you up on an off er of a payment plan!
Alternatively if she simply cannot budge, your conversion rate will suffer, risking also the possibility that the bride won’t have felt ‘heard’. Be careful when trying to upsell – chase the bride’s happiness and certainly not the maximum amount of money from her wallet.
Keeping brides waiting for an appointment is to be avoided at all costs – it’s a really hard one to manage at times. Understand that first impressions will be greatly affected if customers are kept waiting, especially if they are left without attention, so consider what can be done in terms of service for brides who are inconvenienced in this way.
And to the many boutiques who are introducing appointment fees; you’ll need to take extra care here as ‘fee paying’ brides will be totally unimpressed from the get go if they are late to start a ‘paid for’ consultation.
Read more: Is it time to charge no-show brides?
Exemplary customer service should be what each and every one of your staff is aiming for! Teach your team to leave personal dramas and moods at the door. Get them attuned to focusing 100% on the bride, their day and the fabulous warm and welcoming experience you offer. In our store nothing less than friendly and fabulous is acceptable and P45s are issued to staff that don’t believe in this ethos.
Save your breath and avoid criticism. If a bride isn’t ‘feeling it’ nothing you say will talk her into it. Help take it off (pleasantly), and ready her enthusiastically for the next option. Join in and embrace praise shown for a gown and don’t take it personally if something is criticised, you’ll gain favour and respect if you are on her side. Disagreeing will merely alienate her from you and prevent you from connecting with her.
If a bride specifically says they want a fishtail gown and you proceed to pull voluminous A-lines and ball gowns, she will likely conclude you did not listen. Don’t ’suggest’ styles for the sake of it. If you’re pulling from a limited selection be honest, be kind and communicate that you’re sorry but that unfortunately you’re limited at this time (say you have had a flurry of off -peg sales if you don’t have specifically enough in her size/style/colour etc).
Never transmit your frustration and allow the bride to feel that this is her fault and problem or that she is a difficult case to please. Investigate with suppliers what you can do to potentially arrange more suitable sample loans (pass the cost to the customer). Making extra effort for brides in this way is often favourable because not all shops will.
Let’s be honest, seamstresses can be somewhat complicated. If you have a seamstress with excellent technical capability as well as personable communication skills, hang on to them! If their communication style is tricky and training them to speak ‘bride’ is rather a challenge, consider the implementation of a customer service satisfaction survey. Create something you send to brides which covers all areas of your business and service and request their input on the creation of the alterations section.
It takes the heat off you and provides a tool to facilitate dialogue about their services.
A bride’s dress doesn’t fit and her measurements have not changed? Firstly, check your own records and size charts to establish the cause of the problem. Next, measure the dress. Has it been mislabelled or does it fall short of its size tolerance? You need to respond to the bride urgently and with reassurance. When things go wrong, your role is to support your bride and resolve this stressful situation. Going the extra mile may prevent total meltdown, negative reviews and relentless criticism or unnecessary compensatory requests.
In any case, turn to your supplier for support if needed. My suppliers would never leave us high and dry and would always do everything that they can to assist us in a crisis. This is one example of why working WITH our brands and building mutually beneficial relationships is so important, you never know when you are going to need them to support you.
Read more: How to handle negative business reviews
If you think this is okay – please know it is not okay! In my opinion it’s an appalling way to handle a mistake or a stressed out, upset bride. I like to sleep at night and I would do everything I can (within reason) to rescue the problem, irrespective of where the blame lies.
Inevitably there are brides who do gain weight and then accuse us of negligence, often it’s panic which causes this misbehaviour. In any case I’d encourage a calm response, a re-measure and a look together again at the notes made during the measuring process. Most importantly, show your bride that you care and work with her to come up with optional resolutions.
Don’t have notes or signed measurement forms?
Implement them, ASAP, you cannot afford to be casual in this area and will need accurate record keeping and signed measurements at point of order and at subsequent fittings.
For your shop to flourish and thrive, aim to keep your exterior and interior, the stock and your team looking as pristine as possible! A tatty, unloved looking shop with a team who haven’t made an effort with their own appearance won’t communicate ‘successful fabulous wedding shop’. You’ll sell more and attract more brides to your store if effort in these areas is made. What’s that phrase? ‘Get Up, Dress Up, Show Up and Never Give Up’.
Gone (should be) the days when we, bridal boutique buyers, order sample size 14s across the collection. If that’s all you have on rails then you’re missing out on repeat sales and off the peg potential! Contact your manufacturers and suppliers and improve your sizes over the collection asap. Bestsellers in a variety of sizes are also a great idea worth exploring and many manufacturers and designers can help top up with immediate delivery stock orders and gap fillers.
In the face of stiff high street, chain and independent bridal competition (a.k.a a sea of bridal retailers) it’s vital that your customer facing team know their products, fabrics, designers and cuts! Google it if you need to – teach it, train it!
Want more from Abi? Read her bridal boutique customer service tips here.