Interview: How A Wedding Planning Platform Caters To Modern Nuptial Needs
Zola brand director, Jennifer Spector, explains how the site consolidates the complex wedding planning process with today's couples in mind, building its functionalities around consumer feedback, needs and lifestyles
When ecommerce wedding site Zola launched in 2013, the wedding industry was still relatively old-fashioned. Couples were expected to create registries full of gifts to decorate a home, when the vast majority were already cohabitating before even getting engaged. To meet a new demand for wedding gifts that solve for modern needs—ie, Airbnb and travel credit for honeymoon planning—Zola is equipping couples with digital tools that streamline planning for the big day.
Zola is more than just a convenient way for couples to curate gift registries from a wide variety of brands and experiences: The company offers a full suite of wedding planning tools, from easy events websites to guest lists and even automatically organized thank you notes. Now, couples, wedding parties and attendees can visit a brick-and-mortar space in New York City, which offers a unique experience that's earned the comparison, “the Apple store of weddings.”
PSFK spoke to Jennifer Spector, Zola's in-house wedding expert and brand director, for insight into how the company evolves along with contemporary consumers when weddings, couples, gifts—and retail in general—don't look the way they used to.
PSFK: Could you explain the work you do at Zola?
Jennifer Spector: I lead the brand marketing team at Zola. That encompasses lots of different activities, including relating from experiential as well as managing social content, PR and larger advertising campaigns.
Could you explain how Zola started—were there gaps in the wedding space that the company wanted to fill?
Zola is the fastest‑growing wedding company in the country. We started as a wedding registry. Today, we've expanded to offer a free suite of wedding planning tools, as well as beautiful and affordable wedding invitations and paper. Our goal is to be the go‑to place for a couple and their guests who are planning their wedding or attending one.
Could you describe any shifts you're seeing related to consumer behaviors and expectations in this space?
When I got married three years ago, I went to register at a department store. When I came home and looked at my wedding registry, I saw that almost all of the things that I had spent the whole day registering for were not able to be purchased online.
That was really frustrating. Actually, that experience led me to find Zola and ultimately join the company. I think that story tells a lot about what consumers are expecting today, particularly millennials. As the millennial generation gets older and more folks get married and Gen Z is starting, there are core things that consumers are for.
For one, they're expecting a mobile-first experience. Also, they're looking for personal connection. They want the brand to represent them and feel like them. Consumers and couples also want to discover those brands on their own terms.
Social media has just played a huge role in this, as well as allowing for real‑time feedback. If consumers are having problems, they can immediate get someone on the phone or through DM.
How have changing definitions of what a wedding couple looks like today affected your business? How do you accommodate that?
Weddings have been over-marketed to women. It has turned a lot of people off from planning their wedding and participating in planning that day. As a company, we're focused on being more neutral when it comes to speaking to our customer. We want it to be for everyone.
We want to make sure that people who have different sexual orientations or different backgrounds all feel like they are included, welcomed and invited to the party. We want their guests to feel the same way, too.
It goes back to what people are expecting from a brand today: that it can represent them, whoever they are. Couples today have a much more diverse love story than what was traditionally seen as the typical wedding tale.
What makes a wedding consumer unique amongst a broader consumer base?
Number one, this is a consumer who needs help. They've most likely never have done this before. They've likely never planned an event of this magnitude with this many people, with these many dietary restrictions and this many travel needs. The wedding customer really wants guidance. They really want to work with someone they trust.
Another big fear of a lot of people planning a wedding is the expense. Even if they get recommendations from friends or family, sometimes people don't want to share how much the spend, so there's not a lot of transparency.
At Zola, we're really focused on helping people have the most affordable, acceptable, but still really aspirational wedding day. That's why we launched wedding paper invitations.
It's actually the quality of our paper products is incredible. It's really easy to design. You don't need to have a degree in Photoshop to do it. We want to make it really easy for the couple and for it to feel really personal, because you don't get another chance to make your wedding invitations. That goes true for every aspect of the wedding planning journey.
You mentioned the consumer need for expertise or guidance throughout the process, as well as transparency. Are there any other demands you cater to?
The wedding marketplace is a huge business. It's about $70 to $100 billion. At Zola, one of the many things we do is help organize the many moving parts that overwhelm planners in one place.
We have something called a gift tracker where we can tell you who gave you which gift and what their address is. We're also launching thank-you notes to make it easy to immediately send a note to the person who gave you that gift. Consumers then don't have to track down a million spreadsheets and unpack the box.
These little things add up and can be stressful. We're trying to consolidate as much as we can to streamline the process.
Another big differentiator for Zola is that today's couples are really focused on experiences. Over 80% of couples live together before they get married. They're not setting up their first home, so with our wedding registry, their guests can register them for classes, wine tasting, travel gift cards, things that previous generations didn't register for because they had different needs.
How are you involving customers in that process? Is there a feedback mechanism that's built into the platform?
There are three different ways that we tackle customer feedback. Number one, we have a large customer service team that sits in our offices. That's our first priority. Weddings is a high‑touch business. We want to make sure we're offering white glove service to people. If they have a question, they can always reach us.
The other way is that we're really relentless when it comes to customer feedback. We conduct surveys for guests and surveys for couples. We survey people who ended up not using Zola to find out why. We track our NPS score really closely. We have an all‑hands meeting every other week. We focus and read the comments of the detractors in front of the whole group to incorporate changes.
Third is that we monitor social media. When we put something on Instagram stories, we're immediately flooded with hundreds of responses. It's an amazing real‑time feedback loop.
We just listen to our couples. One example is people responded that they loved the way the wedding registry looked on Zola. They identified it. They could add photos. It's beautifully designed. It's so easy to use.
They wanted to be able to make their own wedding website, so we launched free websites two years ago. That's been really successful and really helpful to people.
When I made my own wedding web page, it took me weeks. I didn't know how to code. It was really frustrating. After launching the wedding websites, the next thing we heard from customers was that they loved the designs of the wedding websites and they wanted matching invitations.. We launched that.
We really are hyper‑focused on what the couple is asking for and how we can enable that experience.
Recently, Zola opened its first physical store experience in New York City. Could you explain the decision to go offline?
We have had some version of various offline experiences going back to 2015. They were always relatively small and scrappy, mainly focused on being able to register. Since the company expanded considerably and now offers a variety of wedding planning tools and invitations in paper, our approach demanded a bigger offline experience.
When customers come into our space, which is on 22nd and 5th Avenue in New York, they can register. They can pick out invitations. They can design a wedding website, and even make their own custom cake topper. They can also make a wedding playlist.
We have an area designed to chill out. We know wedding planning is stressful. We wanted to re‑imagine the experience as something fun that could be done quickly and painlessly. We wanted to make it a destination, not something to get through. Accordingly, this version of the space is bigger and more experiential. We have weekly programming. It's all designed to bring the world of weddings to couples rather than having to have couples go around to lots of different vendors. That can be exhausting, and we wanted to make it fun.
What feedback have you received so far?
The feedback has been amazing and has far exceeded our expectations. Folks are coming in and spending one to two hours planning their wedding, It's definitely an activity where people are spending a lot of time in our space.
We've been working with a lot of direct-to-consumer brands within the wedding space to coordinate events. This past weekend we had about 2,500 folks coming in trying on bridesmaids' dresses. There's definitely been a lot of excitement.
The space also has been great as a resource for education, with people making repeat visits. They're registering with us, but then they're coming back to make a cake topper after they get their hair and makeup done and they pick out their outfit.
In terms of the wedding industry, it's a really tight‑knit community, so everyone has been really supportive and helpful. There was an article that came out recently that said we were the Apple store of weddings, which made everyone feel great because the team has been working so hard on that space.
Can you share what's in store for the future of Zola?
There are a bunch of other activities that we're focused on. A really exciting one is that we're participating in hundreds of wedding expos around the country. Weddings are an incredibly local business. In general, we're looking at ways to raise brand awareness so that whether or not a couple is engaged today, or tomorrow, or five years from now, they'll know Zola. Zola will be the number one place where they go to plan and register for their wedding.
Zola is building its brand by identifying its consumers' top needs and enabling them to carry out their wishes. For more from similar innovative and leading brands, see PSFK's reports and newsletters.
Lead image: stock photos from Fotos593/Shutterstock