February 27, 2013
Last week my engaged daughter Corie, who lives in Houston, came home for a visit. She had various reasons for leaving warm and sunny Texas to arrive in snowy New England, one of which was to do some wedding dress shopping with me and a few of her bridesmaids-to-be.
This was my first experience shopping for a wedding dress because I had worn my mother's when I got married nearly 30 years ago. I had always envisioned my daughters wearing the same dress at their weddings, but alas, that's not going to happen with Corie. I'm not a shopper, nor do I care about clothes and dresses. So already having a dress meant "Yay! I don't have to go dress shopping!"
But for Corie, shopping for and choosing her own dress was non-negotiable. She did humor me by taking a look at my 1957 Priscilla of Boston wedding gown and even tried it on, but it was not the dress she had dreamed of. Or should I say, it wasn't one of the dresses she had pinned on Pinterest!
The Shopping Starts Online
Most young brides-to-be start their wedding gown search online these days. They browse through designer websites and pin the styles they like to their Pinterest boards. With the help of the Internet and her iPhone, Corie was well prepared for our shopping excursions. She called wedding boutiques in the area to see if they had the specific dresses she already knew she wanted to try on. While none of them had all of the exact dresses she was interested in, they all told her that they likely had some very similar ones, so she made some appointments.
Online Meets Brick and Mortar
Our first stop was a small boutique only a short ride from our house. My job was going to be to take photos of her wearing the dresses and keeping track of which was which on my smartphone by noting the designer and product number. (I had a system all prepared using the Evernote app, but unfortunately my phone decided not to cooperate, so I did it the old-fashioned way with paper and pen!) At the store we were greeted by a couple of youngish women who escorted us to the back room. We asked if it was okay to take photos and they said of course it was. To me, all the dresses looked amazing on her, but Corie usually found something she didn't like. (It took me awhile to even be able to tell the differences between the various styles, because I hadn't been stalking Pinterest the way she had been!) She did end up liking one as a strong contender that was within our budget.
When we got back home she reviewed our photos and also looked up the model product numbers online to see how they looked on the designer's website. Corie wears a very small size so she tends to swim in the sample sizes at stores, which makes it difficult to see exactly how they'll look on her. Still not ready to say yes to the dress at the first shop, we went to another boutique in a different town.
When we arrived, we were welcomed by a prominently placed sign that read "NO PHOTOS OR VIDEOS ALLOWED." Huh? We just assumed after the last place that it was common practice to take them, and it had also been extremely helpful. The owner (who was around my age) explained that the designers didn't allow them to let people take photos because people could then just copy their designs. This of course didn't make any sense because the designers themselves have photos of all their dresses on their own websites. So we started our visit with a feeling of distrust for the owner.
Controlling the Information
At this point we were all pretty annoyed and even felt like walking out, but we had driven some distance to get there so it seemed silly to leave. Corie chose a few dresses to try on, but when we asked for the product numbers of the ones she liked, the owner said she doesn't give those out. She didn't want people to look online and find them cheaper somewhere else. In other words, she was going to try to force us to buy from her.
While we found that pretty offensive, the next place we went to was even worse. This owner (slightly older than I) didn't allow photos or videos, nor did she provide product numbers. But she took things even one step further by not even letting us know who the designer of the dresses were!
I managed to sneak in a few photos when the owners of these two boutiques weren't paying attention (Corie didn't even know). I didn't agree with their rules and if they weren't going to provide us with any information, I was darn sure going to at least get some photos of the dresses that were possible contenders. In fact, I think I wanted to take them more out of spite than anything else.
Adapt or Die
I understand that these boutique owners feel they're getting squeezed out by the Internet and they're scared of losing their businesses. But they're also getting a lot of their business through the Internet. In other words, it's a two-way street. They will in fact lose their businesses if they don't adapt. There is simply no way you can continue to try to control your customers' experiences in today's online world.
Before the Internet, brides-to-be might have gone to one or two bridal boutiques and chosen from the selection offered at whatever price they were quoted. But that's not going to fly with today's Pinterest brides. You can try to control them all you want, but all you're going to do is piss them off. My daughter said she'd never buy from either of those boutiques that refused to be transparent. To her they came off as mean and controlling.
On the other hand, she (and I) would happily go back to the boutiques that encouraged her to look online and gladly provided all the information she needed to make an informed decision. This would be true even if the prices were slightly higher. (And brick-and-mortar store owners should emphasize the personal services they can provide that you can't get online.) Store owners who understand that ultimately it's the customer who is in control, and don't try to tie their hands, will be the ones who end up winning in the end. Those who refuse to adapt will go the way of the dinosaurs.
Giving Has Its Own SEO Rewards
Update on the Wedding Dress Saga
Jill Whalen has been an SEO Consultant and the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston area SEO Company since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen
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