By Missy Sheehan
An online bridal boutique uses innovative strategies to build trust with brides.
When Charles Zhong and his then-fiancée were planning their wedding, he, like so many others, became frustrated by the process of buying a wedding dress. “He realized how the wedding dress buying process is so costly, and a lot of the gowns that his wife was looking at and trying on didn’t really fit everyone’s body type well,” says Ranu Coleman, Marketing Director for Azazie. Zhong founded Azazie, an online bridal boutique, in October 2014.
Based in San Jose, California, Azazie is revolutionizing the bridalwear industry. The company’s mission is “to reinvent the way people shop for one of the most important days of their lives,” Coleman says.
“Charles really set out to create a platform that would cut out the middlemen and deliver a high-quality custom-fit dress to the consumer directly,” she adds. “He wanted to create a company that would help brides find their dream dress, but he wanted that all to be from the comfort of their own home.”
Unlike traditional bridalwear retailers, Azazie doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar space where customers can choose dresses off the rack. Instead, the e-commerce company sets itself apart by selling made-to-order wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, and mother of the bride dresses that are designed in-house and delivered right to customers’ doors. Each dress is cut and sewn to order and can be customized to fit each customer’s measurements.
This business model allows Azazie to offer high-quality dresses in a wide range of styles and sizes at affordable prices. “Our platform avoids traditional retail costs of advertising, physical retail space, procurement, and unsold inventory,” the company says on its website. Every dollar customers spend goes directly to the design and materials of their dresses.
But this business model also has its challenges, chief among them how to overcome brides’ reluctance to trust an online bridal boutique with something so near and dear to their hearts: their wedding dresses. To accomplish this, Azazie has developed some innovative strategies to engage and connect with customers to show its trustworthiness.
PROVIDING A PERSONALIZED EXPERIENCE
One of the ways Azazie builds trust is by re-creating — and some might say even improving upon — the in-store shopping experience, where consumers can see a product in person prior to making a purchase. “Because we’re a full e-commerce company and we don’t have any brick-and-mortar stores, it’s important to us that the brides and the bridesmaids can really touch, feel, and see the dresses and our accessories before they purchase them,” Coleman says.
Customers usually start by ordering swatches of the dresses they like so they can see and feel the quality of the fabric. They also can try Azazie’s sample program, which has played a pivotal role in gaining customers’ trust, according to Coleman. “We give the customer the opportunity to try on the dress at home before they buy it, so they’re able to touch it and feel it and really see the quality — because quality is always really hard to see online,” she says.
Through the sample program, customers can try on wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses at home for a minimal cost (up to two wedding dresses for $25 each and up to three bridesmaid dresses for $10 each, with the cost of shipping covered by Azazie) for one week prior to making a purchase.
Another benefit of the sample program, according to Coleman, is that it gives customers the chance to make bridalwear shopping more of an experience — one they can share with family and friends.
Customers also can create their own virtual showrooms: “You can pick, say, 10 dresses that you really love, and then you can invite your bridal party so everyone can look at the styles and make decisions together,” Coleman says. “I feel like this type of tool is especially useful when you’re a bride and your bridal party lives in different states. It makes everything more accessible and convenient.
“Bridesmaids tell us all the time how they love our process because it’s so convenient for them,” Coleman adds. “They can look at the dresses on their own time, they can try them on at their leisure, and they can also get a custom fit.”
LEARNING THE POWER OF LISTENING
While Azazie’s focus on the customer experience is no doubt one of the keys to its success, the company also learned early on that listening to customers can have a huge impact when it comes to establishing trust.
Midway through 2015, after growing substantially and doubling its employee headcount during its first year, Azazie made some changes: “We really started listening to our customers’ feedback and adjusted our size chart so that it ran closer to other formalwear sizing, and we expanded our standard size offering from 2 to 24 to 0 to 30,” Coleman says.
“We’ve had several women come to us and say, ‘I’m having such a hard time finding a bridesmaid dress in my size,’” she adds. “So I think making sure every girl with every body type can find the right dress was pivotal.”
Adding more sizes on both ends of the size chart has been good for Azazie’s bottom line as well: Coleman says the change significantly increased sales. On Cyber Monday in 2016, for example, the company’s sales quadrupled from those of the previous year.
Azazie has since made crowdsourcing an integral part of its business model. The company routinely conducts surveys asking customers their opinions about different dress styles and what they’d like to see more of. “I feel like it’s made the Azazie customer an extension of our brand,” Coleman says. “They feel like they’re on our design team because we really listen to them, and we want to take their input when it comes to the new styles that we put out.”
Further proof of Azazie’s listening skills is in the glowing reviews the company receives on websites like The Knot and WeddingWire. “I think we’ve established trust through our customer reviews where women can read firsthand what makes our dresses great and how we make our dresses really affordable for everyone without sacrificing quality,” Coleman says.
For Azazie, the power of listening is clear: “I think listening to our customers when it comes to design feedback, sizing, and any other customizations they need is a pretty powerful business model because it gives the brides exactly what they want and not what a retail buyer or a designer thinks they want,” Coleman says. “For the millennial customer which we specifically target, this is exactly what they’re looking for because they know what they want — they just want to be heard. And they just want someone to deliver.”
RIDING THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE
In the last four years, Azazie has grown so much that the company has had to move into a bigger space every year, according to Coleman. From 2016 to 2017 alone, the company’s sales grew about 300 percent, she says.
As Azazie has grown, it’s also evolved, according to Coleman, and tapped into who its target customers are and what they want. “The Azazie customer is a millennial woman who is educated on fashion and trends, very involved with social media, and really knows what she’s looking for when purchasing a dress,” Coleman says. “She definitely values quality, affordability, style, and the ease and convenience of shopping online, which I think Azazie really fulfills for her.”
The company continues to develop new strategies to make bridalwear shopping easier for everyone involved. While Azazie’s main goal is to be the ultimate wedding shopping destination for brides and their bridal parties, the company hopes to begin offering more options for men in addition to the neckties, bow ties, and pocket squares it currently carries. “We want to be a resource for everybody involved in the wedding,” Coleman says.
They can look at the dresses on their own time, they can try them on at their leisure, and they can also get a custom fit.”
Azazie’s business model — listening to customers and finding innovative ways to connect with them and gain their trust — is not only helping the company succeed; it’s also changing the bridalwear industry for the better, according to Coleman. “Azazie has made the bridal shopping experience more accessible and convenient during a joyous but also extremely stressful time in a bride’s life,” she says. “I think that our direct-to-consumer model really is the wave of the future when it comes to bridal fashion.”