San Francisco Bay Area resident Mary Thornally recalls the dreadful experience of shopping for a wedding dress with an expensive price tag and having to decide on the spot if she would ultimately choose the best dress.
“My sister and I had planned to go look around at stores, but then the whole thought of it was really daunting to me,” said Thornally. Feeling “overwhelmed” by the thought of trying on dresses in person and deciding on the spot; her final result didn’t come from a traditional wedding-dress store, in fact, it came directly from the internet.
According to wedding site TheKnot.com, gowns and alterations averaged nearly $1,509 per bride in 2017. Thornally said she needed a “practical” alternative because she is “drowning in student loan debt” and trying to avoid impractical expenses. For instance, to keep the cost of the wedding down she purchased her bouquet at Safeway while her sister served as photographer during the wedding.
Joining the wave of brides who shop online for dresses is where she finally found the most reasonably priced yet elegant wedding dress to purchase. Thornally purchased the dress for her late-August wedding for only $180 while being blown away by the great quality and paid an additional $160 to have it tailored. “All in all, I think $340 is incredibly cheap,” she said.
Online retail, social media, personalized fashion trends and declining marriage rates are beginning to pose a serious threat to physical wedding retailers as more customers like Thornally embrace online alternatives.
As average gown prices are falling, physical stores such as David’s Bridal are struggling to adapt. David’s Bridal was once known for the tight grip it held on the wedding business but is currently facing serious financial challenges. Although the company currently still sells about one in three U.S. wedding dresses through its more than 300 stores and its online website. According to market research firm IBISWorld, its estimated annual retail revenue is $791 million.
While David’s Bridal is doing its best to keep up with the online industry, several others failed to do so. The Gap cut its Weddington Way brand that primarily sold bridesmaid dresses at Banana Republic locations in 2017, while J. Crew also ended its bridal-wear line in fall of 2016. Several mom-and-pop shops even went as far as going out of business including wedding retailer Alfred Angelo Bridal which unexpectedly closed about 60 stores during a 2017 liquidation.
Those who sell wedding dresses are faced with another key factor in the wedding industry; renting a gown instead of buying due to the price being less expensive. To attempt to remain in the industry, wedding retailers often offer other products such as high school prom dresses or wedding accessories, according to CNBC. Although retailers are making money on other products sold within its shops, the bridal gown business makes up about 43 percent of the wedding retail industry’s revenue according to IBISWorld.
The trend of Americans waiting longer to get married or choosing to never get married isn’t helping the industry either. The number of new marriages per 1,000 Americans was 6.9 in 2016 which is heading downhill from 8.2 in 2000. These numbers represent a decline of about 16 percent in the wedding rate, according to the U.S. government.