It’s been a standing joke in so many sitcoms in which a wedding is being planned. “I should have eloped,” exclaims the bride-to-be, her already frazzled mind nearly taxed to the limit by the many complexities of what should be the happiest day of her life.
Which needn’t be the case, says the man who, in August 2018, became CIO of the nation’s largest bridal store chain. Technology having the means to ease the planning of so many events, just harness it for weddings, Anthony Troy tells Toggle.
Anthony Troy | Chief Information Officer | David’s Bridal | Photo credit: Juan Chami
“Just like brides make commitments to their special person, we must be good on our commitments to our customers,” Troy says from corporate headquarters in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. “To serve our customers well, we must remain relevant, speak to them where they are in a voice they can relate to, and continuously prove that we are their trusted adviser through this exciting yet nerve-wracking event.”
A vow shared
Today’s weddings as likely to be outside a church as in it, there’s no one-style-fits-all approach to attire. As a new generation of brides emerge, the variants of wedding styles, tastes and options change.
The key, Troy says, is to enable the customer to visualize, plan and ultimately execute that special day. For David’s Bridal to best partner with the bride, it means offering her new services to help her calmly navigate the journey.
These include new inspiration apps that can be accessed through sites such as Pinterest, an interactive planning checklist mobile app that helps her plan all activities, and an appointment prep quiz, “myCustomers,” allowing her to explore preferences on dresses while information seamlessly flows so the stylist can review options on an iPad prior to a meeting.
To get a little technical, behind all of these apps is a new architectural cloud-based data layer emerging, “Omni data hubs,” that routes information between customer and employee apps and back-end systems—e.g., Order Management—so everything’s in sync.
David’s Bridal wasn’t necessarily lacking in high-tech when Troy came aboard. He did find, however, much opportunity to modernize, especially with online retailers vying to reduce the company’s one-quarter market share.
Photo credit: Juan Chami
Among his early initiatives was to accelerate the development, beta and chainwide launch of the proprietary myCustomers app to store employees and brides.
“Technology projects fail when there is not strong partnership with business stakeholders,” he says. “In this case, we partnered with our store operations team to really understand how the technology would be used, and how it could help our stylists serve our customers better. We are using this project as the right template for future initiatives.”
Heather Braddock, director of store innovation and operations, has partnered with the technology team to ensure that customer and business needs were incorporated.
“With the information at their fingertips, stylists are able to know our bride’s vision before she walks in the door and offer her a more personalized visit to help bring her vision to life,” Braddock says. “The app enables stylists to easily refine our gown assortment based on our bride’s product preferences to help her find the one.
Another recent innovation was based on the bet that mobile-first customers would rather text than call. LivePerson, said to be the world’s top artificial-intelligence-powered messaging platform, brought in chatbot technology, enabling the most personalized conversation via auditory or texting methods.
David’s launched “Zoey” as its digital concierge. It started as just a way to resolve common support issues, moved on to making appointments and now allows customers to buy products over chat. Omni data hubs and associated APIs play an integral role in allowing for easy communication among the most disparate systems the bot needs to interact with.
“The customer satisfaction ratings are so much better with chat than the phone,” he says. “People really like being able to text at a time and at a pace that is convenient to them. It has been one of our success stories this year.”
Photo credit: Juan Chami
Troy credits the emerging transformational business community within David’s Bridal for acknowledging the need to double down in these areas. For example, beyond just having “cool apps,” the marketing team has stepped up its social media activity.
It’s not enough anymore to just connect customers to products and stores, Troy reminds. It’s critical to tell customers stories and, even more importantly, connect them with each other so they can share their stories on Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.
Customers wanting a “bride hub” for better organization, the Wedding Planning Toolkit—powered by Blueprint—now provides an interactive checklist and the ability to build a personalized wedding website and Vision Board.
“It’s the bride’s hub for wedding planning, where she can stay organized with our interactive checklist, build a personalized wedding website, and create her dream wedding vision board,” says Lizzy Ellingson, chief product and design officer for David’s Bridal and Blueprint. “The vision board is a fan fave because it lets the bride, right after she’s engaged, to design the look, feel, theme, plus more for her extraordinary day.”
Doesn’t go it alone
The IT department’s hands full on any given day, strategic partners are necessary to accelerate the digital transformation. They include PricewaterhouseCoopers—better known as PwC—which played a key role in partnering with the architecture team to perform the data architecture for the most recent additions to the data hubs and build-out of a new 24/7 offshore support team. Another company, InfoCepts, has automated much of the day-to-day analytics for David’s Bridal in a way that accelerates business decisions.
All partners have figured in the strengthening of what Troy regards as the four main legs of the David’s Bridal game plan.
That first leg being the wedding itself. The business is committed to leaning into the entire event instead of solely assisting the bride. It further harmonizes the process by integrating data collected from everyone—from the bride to the guests to the vendors.
Photo credit: Juan Chami
The so-called omni experience is the second leg. “It is critical in this climate that customers see the same processes, policies, data and products through digital and physical outlets,” Troy says. “It has become table stakes.”
The third leg is the supply chain modernization which ensures quicker deliveries of products to wherever needed. Last but not least is the best-in-class technology that David’s Bridal has committed to investing in and allowing Troy to leverage.
“Any time you try to change the direction of a company, it takes the full commitment of the business and technology teams to fundamentally change whatever is necessary to serve customers better,” he says. “At the same time, it can also be fun. If you can’t find a way to have fun while modernizing a beloved 70-year-old American institution, you are doing something wrong.”
For Troy, that means not being siloed. Instead he’s free and encouraged to interact with other departments.
“I really believe in servant leadership,” says the 1987 Villanova University computer science grad with an executive masters in technology management from The Wharton & Moore Schools in 2006. He’s also on the PhillyCIO Advisory Board.
And how times change, with online operations cutting into so many brick-and-mortar retailers. But David’s Bridal, better able to compete on the virtual shopping front and remaining the only nationwide competitor to the independent stores, should continue claiming as many as one in four American brides being dressed in one of its gowns. The planning for that bride’s big day having been eased, she’s not the one wishing she had eloped.