Yesterday the consumer organisation CHOICE hosted a round-table discussion in Sydney to debate the key points raised in the CHOICE Wedding Report, which was published in December 2009. According to CHOICE, creative pricing and high pressure sales tactics, could be partly responsible for driving up the cost of the average Australian wedding to just over $33,000. Although wedding suppliers denied any wrong doing by the industry, those at the round-table did acknowledge that more could be done to ensure that couples didn’t feel ‘ripped off’ on their big day.
Some of Australia’s most influential wedding suppliers, as well as lifestyle, food and consumer bloggers were invited to weigh into the debate about wedding prices yesterday over champagne and canapés at TOKO Restaurant in Surry Hills. Yours truly was also invited but was a no show because after the death of my father last week, I wasn’t feeling quite up to dragging my butt all the way from the outer western suburbs, into the Sydney CBD where the round-table was taking place. But after reading through the list of key discussion points, I wish I had made the effort.
The round-table was moderated by bridal fashion designer and Project Runway mentor, Henry Roth. In attendance were Anthea Leonard from Sweet Art, Lynleigh McPherson from Belinda Franks Catering, Lorraine Elliot from Not Quite Nigella, Phoebe Gazal from Papier d’Amour, David Mendes from KAREN Magazine, Alicia Richardson from The Knot, Claire Aristedis from Lifegloss, Matt Lee from Infinity Photography, and Matthew Duchesne from Milk & Honey Photography. Also present and contributing to the debate was CHOICE reporter Kate Browne, as well as Fiona Wood, Sian Jenkins, Leigh Golombick and Sean O’Byrne from Mark Communications.
According to the CHOICE Wedding Report, the shadow shoppers employed by the consumer organisation found that more often than not, they were quoted a higher price for exactly the same product or service after disclosing it was for a wedding.
Speaking at yesterday’s round-table discussion, wedding suppliers said the price increase was justified because consumers had higher expectations of products and services for a wedding.
Phoebe Gazal from Papier d’Amour said, “A bride will call 40 times a day to check the status of their invitation, while someone having a 40th Birthday party will call once. It’s more than a normal service, sometimes you’re acting as an emotional support on the day – almost a psychologist in some instances”.
While Lynleigh McPherson from Belinda Franks Catering said, “We’re now thinking of charging a management fee as we often end up acting as event managers not just caterers”.
Although the CHOICE Wedding Report did find the practice of charging a premium for weddings was relatively widespread throughout the industry, not all suppliers charged a premium price at the mere mention of the word ‘wedding’.
For those who do charge a premium, a common problem is often the level of assumption on the part of the supplier that the consumer knows and understands the complexities and difficulties that go into a wedding, compared to other events and therefore do not properly outline the extra value and level of service. In order to resolve this issue, suppliers needed to be transparent about what consumers are getting above and beyond the normal service. Often this is left unsaid and not fully understood by both parties, leading to complications and a feeling of ‘being ripped off’ by the consumer.
CHOICE reporter Kate Browne said, “The small print is sometimes left off which means the onus is put on the consumer to dig out the truth of what they’re getting. Sometimes suppliers can assume consumers want the full service and the consumer can feel hard done by when forced to use packages”.
In the wedding industry there is a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude when it comes to the packages. Consumers should request more flexibility and tailoring around them and suppliers needed to be more flexible.
Bridal fashion designer and expert on all things wedding, Henry Roth, said: “In a highly competitive market, it’s how the services and products are marketed that makes all the difference. And the suppliers have the responsibility to make sure that all extra fees, services etc are clearly outlined and rationalized and they inform the customer as best they can”.
The panel also agreed that more customers should approach suppliers with a budget in mind.
Advice for Consumers
The panel came up with this advice for consumers who are planning a wedding:
- Come prepared with a budget outline
- Ask as many questions as you can of your supplier so that you receive the level of service you’re expecting
- Ask exactly what you get for your money and what are the extra charges, if any
- Be transparent and say it’s for a wedding. This will help the supplier to understand what extra work is going to be required
- Research supplier reputation: Websites, forums, social media and through word of mouth
- Always have a one-on-one consultation with your supplier to make sure you get along with them
- Don’t be pressured into packages and when offered, make sure you ask about flexibility
- You might be working with these people for 18 months or longer, so make sure the relationship remains healthy and open
At present, the wedding industry is not regulated, which means consumers needed to do their research and be vigilant when approaching suppliers.
Alicia Richardson from The Knot recommended brides look at wedding case studies in magazines and on websites, as these can be one of the best ways to find quality wedding suppliers.
Although the suppliers agreed that a regulatory body was a good idea in principal, they couldn’t see how it would be set up and run.