David's Bridal has added 3-D and augmented reality technology to its online site to enhance the online browsing and buying experience.
David’s Bridal is taking its digital love affair to the next level with technology that lets brides-to-be view dresses online in 3-D detail, and use augmented reality to virtually bring a gown-wearing mannequin into their living rooms.
David’s, which emerged from bankruptcy 20 months ago but is still burdened with debt, is on a mission to become a thoroughly modern, millennial-friendly wedding retailer that combines the best an online experience can offer, with the old-fashioned, bride-friendly, in-person services that a chain of 300 stores can provide.
Its online transformation has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic that shifted shoppers away from stores. While its stores have reopened, David’s, like other retailers, has continued to see online sales surge.
Last week David’s began showing off its newest innovation – the ability to get a 3-D or augmented reality view of 52 of its dress styles.
David’s has partnered with 3-D and augmented reality firm Vertebrae to add those features to its online platforms.
Vertebrae is a five-year-old startup based in the Los Angeles area that has helped brands ranging from Crate and Barrel to Toyota to the Herschel Supply Co. backpack brand show off their products in 3-D, or give customers a way to view how a sofa or floor lamp would look in their apartment.
The AR function on the David’s site lets a customer use her phone to pop a 3-D rendering of a mannequin in a selected wedding dress. or bridesmaid dress, into a phone screen view of her living room, or any other space. That feature allows her to take a photo of herself, or a member of her wedding party standing next to the virtual mannequin.
“The goal is how can we meet the customer where they’re at right now, which is in their home,” said Lizzy Ellingson, chief digital experience officer at David’s.
“It’s about getting the customer to be able to see the details of a dress and the intricacies of a dress, which she might not have been able to see if she’s not going into a store,” Ellingson said.
The Vertebrae technology lets customers look at a highly-detailed 3-D photo of a dress from all angles, or zoom in to view tiny details like the beading on a bodice or the pattern on a lace sleeve.
Vertebrae typically takes close to 200 photos of a dress and “stitches” them together through a process called photogrammetry to create a realistic 3-D image.
“The whole goal here is to bring that physical shopping experience to life and make it easy for consumers wherever they are. And that means having 3-D that looks real,” said Vince Cacace, CEO of Vertebrae.
Online shoppers, he said, want to be able to look at a dress and see all the angles, the drape, the details. The augmented reality view takes 3-D further, he said.
Rather than zooming in, “you can actually just walk up to it. You’re getting what we call six degrees of freedom – things like yaw, pitch and roll, where you can closely mimic real life. It tricks your brain into believing that it’s there because you’re interacting with it like it’s there and you’re seeing it like it’s there,” Cacace said.
Vertebrae has worked with fashion brands such as Coach, Kate Spade and Adidas to capture 3-D images and intricate details of handbags and footwear, but this was its first foray into creating 3-D renderings of wedding gowns.
David’s started small, with only 52 of its hundreds of dresses available for 3-D and AR viewing, but it plans to add additional styles each month, and to eventually expand the technology to its other offerings, such as special occasion dresses or flower girl outfits.
David’s is hoping the enhanced views online will drive more customers to want to see the dresses in person, in its stores.
The initial rollout of the technology “is to test the concept of can we make somebody comfortable enough online to want to make an appointment, to fall in love with the dress so they want to see it in the store,” Ellingson said.
David’s Bridal has been working hard to improve its digital game as it seeks to transform itself in the wake of its 2018 bankruptcy filing.
‘Relentless’ in the pursuit of digital
James Marcum, the CEO who was brought on in June 2019 to lead the turnaround, has made digital and omnichannel innovation a top priority.
In December he promoted Ellingson to Chief Digital Experience Officer. She joined the company in 2018 when the gift registry startup she co-founded, Blueprint Registry, was acquired by David’s.
In January the company unveiled Zoey, an AI-powered chatbot brides-to-be can text with to book store appointments, or request recommendations from David’s stylists, as well as Wedding Vision, digital wedding planning tools.
In June it began offering virtual appointments with stylists via Zoom, and also partnered with PopWallet to offer mobile coupons and rebates.
In January, when he announced the first round of digital innovations, Marcum said David’s was “relentless in our pursuit of becoming the most relevant, digitally modern and innovative company to serve today’s modern bride.”
David’s has no choice but to innovate as if its life depends on it.
It was able to emerge from its November, 2018 bankruptcy filing in just two months, while keeping all of its stores open during the process. It shed $450 million in debt during the restructuring, but it still faced a heavy debt load and concerns about its ability to grow sales.
David’s is facing competition in a changing wedding industry from a growing roster of direct-to-consumer tech startups, such as Anomalie, which lets brides design and purchase custom wedding dresses entirely online.
But Marcum maintains that David’s is the only national player that can leverage advantages in both the digital and physical arenas.
Browse online, buy in store
Today’s brides, he said in a discussion with Forbes.com soon after taking the CEO job, want to search for inspiration online, but also want the in-person support of a nationwide network of stores where they can see, touch, try on dresses, and where far-flung bridesmaids and family members can also shop or be fitted near their homes.
He is betting, he said, that David’s Bridal is “one of the few retail concepts out there where brick and mortar actually becomes an asset versus a liability.”
The company saw dramatic increases in web traffic, and an increase in online sales as the pandemic began, but is now seeing customers return to its physical stores, according to Callie Canfield, vice president of marketing and communications at David’s Bridal.
The company has also seen that the pandemic hasn’t killed the demand for wedding dresses, Canfield said. “People are still getting married,” she said. “We’re not seeing weddings getting cancelled or called off. We didn’t see a huge drop off or decline in sales in our business because weddings are still important to people,” even if wedding ceremonies have become smaller, she said.
Marcum’s turnaround bet is centered on his belief that brides browse online – and thus need a great digital experience – but still want to try on, and buy, in a physical store. David’s latest investment in 3-D and AR technology is an investment in better browsing.