The department store takes bigger aim at the $60 billion industry

By Phil Wahba
May 6, 2016

Macy’s wants more shoppers to say “I do” to its wedding business.

The department store chain is stepping up its nuptials game in the hopes of winning a bigger slice of the $60 billion U.S. wedding pie. Among other moves: Macy’s is adding higher-end bridal jewelry to its assortment and training its army of personal shoppers to advise anxious couples.

While Macy’s has long served people who are getting hitched, its offerings have traditionally revolved around gift registries. Macy’s has typically become part of the average couple’s planning eight months into the process, meaning it has been missing out on chances to sell items earlier, like the engagement ring or even a skin care and weight-loss regimen as the bride and groom prepare for their big day. Yet the average length of an engagement in the United States is 14.5 months, according to a 2015 survey of 18,000 brides by The Knot, a leading wedding marketplace.

“We have an opportunity to service the couple throughout the entire wedding journey, not just at the point of registry,” Shawn Outler, the Macy’s senior vice president overseeing the wedding strategy, told Fortune on a tour of the retailer’s Manhattan flagship. “We weren’t quite messaging to those opportunities but we knew we were selling the product.”

More than just expanding its wedding business, the push is at the heart of Macy’s larger strategy to halt several quarters of sales declines as the retailer has seen many shoppers defect to discount chains like T.J. Maxx or simply shift their shopping from apparel to areas like home improvement and car repairs. In March, Macy’s Inc’s Chief Financial Officer Karen Hoguet flagged the initiative, internally called “All Things Wedding,” to Wall Street investors as a way to foster cross selling and perhaps more importantly, “build ongoing loyalty with millennial customers,” as she put it. The average age for people getting married for the first time is 27 for women and 29 for men, exactly the new generation of shoppers Macy’s wants to win.

She’s on to something.

The Knot’s survey found the average wedding cost $32,641 last year, up 20% from just over $27,000 five years ago. And while that is mostly made up of catering and hall rental expenses, it also includes big-ticket items like wedding dresses (average expense of $1,469) and engagement rings ($5,871) that Macy’s wants to sell more of. IBISWorld forecasts that total wedding industry sales will rise 2.2% a year through 2020.

Macy's.
Courtesy of Macy's

Last fall, Outler says, Macy’s took a close look at how key products throughout its stores—beyond wedding staples like the rings, the wedding dress, and menswear—could be bundled into a more complete wedding offering to foster cross-selling, and what kind of spillover effect that could have on sales of related items like shoes and intimate apparel.

Macy’s started that “I Do” test at 55 stores and is rolling it out to 150 of its 750 stores this year.

Some examples: Macy’s tuxedo rental service areas, launched last year in partnership with Men’s Wearhouse (a unit of Tailored Brands), now have signage that reminds customers that Macy’s My Stylist personal shopper service can help with weddings too, and not just black-tie events like high school proms. Similarly, a part of the store reserved for My Stylist has an area dedicated to the bridal business. (My Stylist at Macy’s is available as 145 stores and staffed by 250 people.)

Speaking of those stylists, they have also been given additional training to deepen their knowledge of Macy’s wedding offerings. And though it’s not visible to customers, Macy’s has modified its org charts so that the wedding registry and stylists answer to the same store manager. Macy’s “I do” catalogue, once focused on rings, is much bigger now, and it includes everything from cosmetics to home goods, and shows far more dresses.

“There is a big white space here,” says Adheer Bahulkar, a partner in the retail practice of consulting form A.T. Kearney. “They have the chance to reach customers they haven’t served before if they do this right.”

In many ways, Macy’s simply wants to take fuller advantage of its existing assortment of merchandise. Last year, Macy’s bought the hip and increasingly popular “blue mercury” beauty brand and store chain, and the wedding effort is a way to get more mileage out of that. And vice versa.

Macy’s has stepped up its offerings in other ways: the store has exclusive tuxes by Ryan Seacrest and Ralph Lauren to differentiate it from other stores. It has expanded and taken its fine jewelry up a notch by adding stones of a higher quality and a larger variety of gems. (Indeed, the current wedding catalog features an 18-karat white gold diamond ring that sells for $130,000, a price one would more typically associate with Tiffany & Co tif .) And Macy’s has added rings by upscale designer Marchesa. Other changes: an updated online registry and lounges where bridal parties can try things on (think of a scene in the movie “Bridesmaids” without the unspeakable comedic disaster.)

It remains to be seen how much of the wedding industry Macy’s can snag away from specialty retailers. But taking a broader view, if Macy’s succeeds, it could attract a new, younger cohort of shoppers. Its average shopper is 46 years old, according to Kantar Retail.

“This is one part of the couple’s life you can’t mess up on,” Outler says. “We want this to lead to first anniversary shopping, the first baby, the first home. We want these customers for life.”

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