The current situation for wedding suppliers… and what you can be doing about it
To all the wonderful suppliers we represent on Guides for Brides, whether you’ve recently started working with us or would have been celebrating 25 years with us next month, we are here for you at this challenging time.
What is the current situation for wedding suppliers?
The entire wedding industry and all our excited brides and grooms had a period of real uncertainty until 23rd March. Couples had to make their own decisions on whether to go ahead during social distancing, knowing some of their guests would be unable to attend. These couples were generally consulting with their family, their venue and their suppliers before making the decision to postpone.
Their decisions were mainly based on the financial implications; they didn’t want to lose deposits. Most postponed if their venue and suppliers were happy to.
This all changed on 24th March when the government banned weddings entirely for 3 weeks, closing the majority of venues. Many venues chose to cancel weddings to the end of May or June. They felt that the ban would be extended beyond 3 weeks. They knew that registrars and clergy should not be prioritising weddings right now. They were also very aware that most couples would prefer to wait until they could have the wedding they had hoped for. By cancelling so many weddings so quickly, there was – and still is – a scramble for any available venue dates. Unfortunately, most couples found that they had to accept the few dates they were offered, regardless of whether their other suppliers were available. And this is where so many suppliers have been left in a difficult situation.
Can couples claim on wedding insurance?
We surveyed over 650 couples with weddings in 2020. Only 22% felt that wedding insurance was likely to cover a coronavirus related claim. Insurance companies and underwriters are still in discussions but most couples simply don’t know yet if a claim for costs incurred by cancelling or postponing will be covered.
IMAGE: Do couples feel wedding insurance will cover COVID-19 cancellations? ©Guides for Brides 2020
Should wedding suppliers refund deposits?
Your contract probably allows you to keep the deposit and possibly also charge the final balance if a couple postpones or cancels. It has been heartwarming that most suppliers have done all they can to help couples, allowing them to change dates without penalties or restrictions. The challenge comes when you aren’t available for their alternative date.
While cash flow is a challenge, the last thing you’ll want to do is refund a deposit purely for goodwill.
What are the alternatives?
- If they paid you by credit card, they may be able to get a refund through their card provider.
- If they have insurance, they may be able to claim on their insurance.
- Could the deposit be transferred to another service, for example a credit for a cake, flowers or photography on a birthday or first anniversary?
- Can you waive part or all of the final balance, especially if you will not be incurring the costs (e.g. buying flowers, ingredients). This is much harder for photographers and celebrants as the service you are supplying is your time and skill.
- At a time where we are all working together as a community of wedding professionals, is there a colleague or a competitor with similar skills you can pass the booking to, with the couple’s agreement? They may have a booking they can’t honour too, or may be happy for you to retain the deposit as an introduction fee.
Moving forward with NEW enquiries
For the past 3 weeks a lot of your time will have been dedicated to the soul destroying task of rescheduling postponed weddings and negotiating over cancelled weddings.
There is always an online peak of searches for suppliers over the Easter weekend, so now might be a great time to try to move forward and be there for new couples.
Why the Easter peak?
Just as at Christmas, Easter is a time where couples spend time with their family and friends and inevitably the topic of conversation will turn to their wedding plans. What have they booked? What still needs arranging?
If they got engaged at Christmas they’ve had a chance to find a wedding venue and will almost certainly have a date. If they got engaged over Valentine’s or the Leap Day they may not yet have a venue confirmed but they’ll want to start finding suppliers.
By the end of the weekend they have a long ‘to do” list. They’ll also be aware (because we have told them!) that there is a lot of competition for dates later this year and throughout 2021 so they’ll be keen to start finding and booking their suppliers.
Can couples plan effectively during social isolation?
Some of you will be aware that as well as Guides for Brides for UK couples, we also run Beyond Weddings, for destination weddings. We can see how easy it is for couples from overseas to plan their wedding remotely. Often they don’t visit their venue or meet any of their suppliers until they arrive in the country for the wedding. It is all done through looking at photos, reviews and video tours and communicating through email, Skype, WhatsApp or Zoom.
The couples tend to be more relaxed about their plans as they’ve had less control. As a result they leave their venue and suppliers to do their job. It’s not a bad way to work!
What can you be doing to help them?
Be ready for the enquiries
As couples move into booking mode – or in some cases rebooking mode, it is important to be ready for them.
You will have been in touch with all your postponed couples by now, so change your online messaging to reflect that.
- Check your email “out of office” message. Are you telling couples that you are closed for 3 months? Or that you’d be pleased to hear from them? Check your email regularly; statistics show that couples that send more than one enquiry are most likely to book the first company to reply.
- If your emails are being redirected, check your online enquiry forms still reach you as your home spam filter may have different settings. Send yourself a test from your own online form on your website as well as from any directory you are on. If it goes into spam, drag it to your inbox and that should resolve it. As well as being emailed to you, enquiries sent through GuidesforBrides are also saved on your business hub to check at any time.
- Check your website. Have you made it clear on the home page, on your blog or on your “Contact” page that you are looking forward to hearing from couples right now? Over 10,000 have read our Coronavirus advice for couples. Feel free to share the article if it is helpful.
- Keep posting on social media, show couples you are there and active.
- If you’ve never tried before, this is the time to get creative with videos. It’s quick and easy to produce a short video of social media talking about who you are and what you offer. It doesn’t matter what you are talking about, it is just important that couples can see the personality behind the business. The reason that wedding fairs can be so effective is because some couples need that face to face interaction to build trust. If you can’t be there to meet them face to face, this is a good alternative (and could save you a lot of time at Fairs in the future!).
From the experts
Now, as the shock wears off and we find our way in the new normal, we MUST have a strategy. We need to take clear and logical steps to keep our wedding businesses on track to survive and thrive.Kelly Chandler, Wedding Planner and Venue Consultant
Practical tips regarding payments and deposits
Couples have told us that they are anxious about paying deposits amid such uncertainty, especially while they can’t get wedding insurance.
So, a few practical tips that will help reassure them and encourage them to book now.
- If you can take payment by credit card, encourage couples to use that option. 27% of couples surveyed said their suppliers either didn’t take card payments or limited the amount they could pay. They’ll really appreciate the extra protection that card payment can offer them.
- Some companies are allowing couples to book without paying a deposit. Take care if this is your approach. If couples haven’t invested in the relationship financially with you, they are unlikely to be investing emotionally either, and could still be shopping around. It can also leave them vulnerable; without a deposit they’ll need a clear contract from you confirming that you are holding their date free.
- If you can, sign up for our Book with Confidence pledge. Couples pay you a deposit as normal, showing genuine commitment and investment in you. If they have to postpone or cancel, you pledge that their deposit will be returned. Although we originally introduced this pledge for venues, we opened it up to suppliers. Businesses in 18 different supplier categories have signed up for the pledge, with even more photographers than venues. Once confidence returns, the badge can be removed by unticking the box.
What can we do to help you?
Over the past 2 weeks we have been listening to many venues, suppliers, brides and grooms as well as insurance companies and registrars in order to keep everyone informed in a situation that is evolving daily.
For our clients we are monitoring online reputation so you can respond as appropriate.
We are tracking online user behaviour so we can advise you. Up to 150,000 people use our site for wedding planning each month with 20,000 couples actively planning so we can quickly see changes and help you to react. We’ll be updating you with useful insights along with practical measures you could be taking, such as:
- We’ll be repeating our weekly Wedding Fair Live events on Facebook every Thursday. Our first one had over 3500 viewers so it is a great way to reach a wider audience. Action: We’ll be featuring different suppliers, free of charge, so let us know if you’d like more information by emailing Nikita.
- There has been a huge increase in views of our Late Availability page. We have extended the dates showing from 6 months to 18 months to help couples looking for 2021 dates. This is relevant for photographers, planners, celebrants, toastmasters and any other business categories who tend to only take one booking per day. Action: It shows businesses that have updated their calendar in the past 30 day, so log in to update it today.
- Online traffic on our site almost doubled in the past week which means couples have got over the initial disappointment and shock and are starting to plan again. Make sure you are in front of them. We’ll be doing our bit to support this by ensuring no subscriptions expire over the next 3 months, so that you remain in front of future couples.
- At 4pm on Tuesday 14th April we will be hosting a free Zoom webinar for our wedding suppliers, focusing on essential tips for marketing at the current time, with wedding Sales & Marketing expert and International Speaker, Alan Berg. Action: Sign up free here. We have just 200 spaces available.
Please don’t hesitate to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org, call the office 01235 770078 or my mobile 07841 650225 if there is anything more we can do to help support your business through this.