Wedding Shopping Just Got Easier

The wedding business is booming.

Charles David, Ivanka Trump and Loeffler Randall all launched bridal collections for spring ’11, and now footwear designers such as Beverly Feldman and Bettye Muller are jumping on the bandwagon for fall. With the current surge of special-occasion styles hitting the market, online retailers are joining brick-and-mortar shops in saying “I do.”

Anthropologie’s latest initiative, Bhldn.com (pronounced “beholden”), opened early this year, selling wedding gowns, footwear, lingerie and accessories. The site carries 15 shoe brands, including Melissa by Vivienne Westwood, Schutz and the newly launched Bettye Muller bridal line. “We felt women were looking for a brand to bring amazing, unexpected product, styling advice and inspiration together with a beautiful, soulful experience that encourages sharing and a sense of community,” said Managing Director Kristin Norris.

Amazon.com-owned shoe website Endless.com stocks more than 1,000 footwear brands and has recently beefed up its bridal selection. While the site has always offered classic special-occasion brands such as Stuart Weitzman and Kate Spade, it has also added the new lines by Loeffler Randall and Ivanka Trump.

“The customer feedback on bridal has increased more and more over the last few years,” said Tracy Ogden, a spokeswoman for Endless. “We get a lot of customers asking for everything from new brands to a more diverse selection of heel heights.”

Other e-commerce sites have wasted no time getting into the flourishing industry.

Theaislenewyork.com is a luxury bridal shop offering high-end designer gowns, shoes and accessories in limited-engagement sales. Launched last year, the site has carried Pour La Victoire and is currently featuring Loeffler Randall’s new collection. “We do very well with our accessories,” said Shara Levy, founder and co-president of the e-tailer. “The bride is the ultimate consumer because she is shopping for the single most important day of her life. It’s an easy market because there is always someone getting married.”

Bridal is only part of the selection on the new lifestyle site Isaay.com, but it’s still an important market, said VP of merchandising Hongyee Hoang, who cut her teeth in bridal buying and has seen the industry boom firsthand. As Hoang readies the site for the official launch this summer, she’s picking up special-occasion lines such as Nina. “The bridal market used to be limited,” she said, citing plain white dyables and simple, unimaginative styles as the main footwear options. “There’s no basic wedding dress anymore, so brides are looking to translate that into footwear.”

But while these new bridal merchants differ in size, demographic and price point, they all agree the Web is a vital part of their business models.

“The advantage is the customer now doesn’t have to go to multiple retailers to find the accessories they need,” said Endless’ Ogden. “They can get it all in one place and [have] it the next day for free. It’s one less stop at the mall.”

Hoang agreed, pointing out that the Internet provides more choices. “I wanted to have a one-stop destination for brides so they don’t have to go to several different locations to find what they’re looking for,” she said. “Because brides have so many options, shopping online is more convenient.”

And according to Levy, the convenience of the Internet is perfect for the low-key bride who wants to do her shopping solo.

“There will always be ‘that girl,’” she said of the traditional bride, “but there is also a girl who doesn’t care to have everyone’s opinions.”

Still, not every retailer thinks the Internet is the best medium for the bridal market. Bridal Reflections, a 38-year-old specialty retailer with three New York locations, carries brands such as Salon Shoes, Grazia and Martinez Valero. Senior buyer Cristina DeMarco said the in-store experience is a crucial part of the entire bridal industry.

“You have to actually touch the product, feel the fabric and see how it fits,” she said. “The bridal industry is not an online business; it’s a service business.”

And some retailers believe in the benefits of both online and brick-and-mortar sales. Nordstrom, which has picked up several new special-occasion lines, including Charles David Soiree and Beverly Feldman, launched 14 in-store bridal suites last fall and features many wedding-day styles on its website.

“Having a multi-channel offering in bridal makes sense for the same reason that it makes sense in our total business,” said Tacey Powers, national merchandise manager. “We can be there when and how the customer chooses to shop.”

Bhldn.com is following a similar model and will open a store in Houston this summer. “Online, you connect with a broader audience. In-store, you have a different type of intimacy and interaction,” said Norris. “Both are truly relevant and important to our brand.”

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