Federated Looks to Evolve Online Bridal Registries

Federated Direct, the Internet and catalog arm of Federated Department Stores, has noticed that brides-to-be are beginning to plan their weddings twice as early online versus in-store.

The observation is one of several based on traffic recorded at the online bridal registries of Federated's Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Burdines, Goldsmith's, Rich's, Lazarus and The Bon Marche brands.

“Not only are they coming in early, but they're also coming for a longer period of time,” said Jay Herratti, senior vice president of Internet strategy and business development at Federated Direct, New York.

Content and planning tools on the Federated online bridal registries give brides an incentive to plan their weddings earlier, Herratti said. The registries list an estimated 20,000 bridal resources, including local information on reception halls and florists.

Each time these prospective brides visit the Federated sites, they spend about 17 minutes in the wedding registry section.

“What we've been finding is in the old days, by the time they walked into the store, it was when things got a little more solidified, a little more serious,” Herratti said. “Now, when you look at the online experience, there is more opportunity for the bride to think quietly.”

Despite the advent of online registries, some familiar hurdles remain.

“The registry process starts a little later because it starts with the reception hall,” Herratti said. “The reception hall might also determine the date of the wedding.”

But the Internet is slowly changing habits. Federated allows brides who register online to have an account opened simultaneously in a Federated store. They also can scan items in a store and have them recorded online.

Twelve percent of couples registering with Federated began their registries online, a big change for a retailer that opened an online registry in June 1999 with macys.com and struck a January 2000 co-branding alliance with WeddingChannel.com, Los Angeles. Under the alliance, Federated handles commerce and fulfillment while WeddingChannel has responsibility for editorial content, planning tools and WeddingBells magazine.

Online registries now account for 30 percent of all Internet sales from Federated retail brands, excluding Bloomingdale's, whose registry is separate from its siblings'. Internet sales last year at Federated brands, including Bloomingdale's and Fingerhut, were $156 million.

Another trend Federated noticed is the expanded merchandise preferred by couples. Traditionally, china, glassware and houseware were the most popular choices.

“[Now] it seems to be expanding into categories we haven't seen such a strong presence in the past, specifically, textiles, linen and luggage, which has traditionally been an afterthought and now become an integral part of the registries,” Herratti said.

And brides who visit Federated online not only are visiting the registry but also shopping for jewelry and beauty products.

Herratti would not confirm whether brides who registered twice as early online versus offline spent more money on the Internet. But he said “those who tend to register online tend to be a little more self-directed. They tend to be more technology-savvy, but more and more what we're seeing is that we really have a very strong overlap. Our customer that goes online is also a customer that goes into the store.”

Based on what it has learned the past few years, Federated will expand its online bridal registry offerings. This fall, it will roll out a bridesmaid salon online and offline.

“This is something that will allow the bride and all her bridesmaids wherever they are around the country to look at a selection of dresses [online],” Herratti said. “If they choose one, brides can have it shipped or a bridesmaid can walk into one of our 300 stores to try on the dress and have a fitting.”

Just last week, the company rolled out a bridal electronic gift card that can be bought in stores and redeemed online and vice versa. This feature should be available by September in all Federated chain stores and online.

With such extensions, Federated views the online bridal registry as just the start for cementing ties with brides.

“We're very strategically interested and beginning to look at this as an opportunity for lifestyle marketing,” Herratti said. “We're really thinking about how we can continue to market to the bride over a lifetime, which is our full intention.”

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