Rent the Runway Takes a Customer-Centric Approach Online and in Stores

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As customer behaviors continue to change, retailers everywhere are changing with them. Subscription apparel rental company Rent the Runway is taking a customer-centric approach to meet rising expectations and elevate the experience.

“It’s all about experiences,” Hampton Catlin, vice president of engineering for Rent the Runway, told attendees at eTail East in Boston, explaining the company’s rationale behind a new unlimited subscription program for $159 a month. “We really had to rethink how we’re engaging with our customers and how we think about their lives and how they’re using us.”

The program allows customers to choose an unlimited number of items each month from 600-plus designers and exchange as they like, with no return dates. This is an area of the business that now represents a majority of Rent the Runway’s sales, Catlin said.

Other plans are listed at $89, offering four pieces a month, and an entry-level subscription of $30 to rent a piece for up to eight days, with the option of booking it months in advance.

With constant social sharing, especially of styles and fashion, shoppers are feeling a lot more pressure to look right, placing higher expectations on retailers to deliver.

“What we’ve really seen is a shift toward access like Airbnb and Uber,” said Catlin. “Why do I need to own it when I can just rent it and use it temporarily? You can get the experience out of it without putting in the capital.”

Catlin said it is important to think about customers in terms of valuing both their time and their lives, leading to a company philosophy centered on utility and experience. “We have customers that wear Rent the Runway 120 days a year,” said Catlin. “Typically, our customers are wearing us a majority of the days without anything going on.”

Catlin said Rent the Runway’s customers want to feel good, look good and not invest too much unless it’s a major purchase. “You really have to respect their time and respect their wallet,” said Catlin.

Rent the Runway’s five brick-and-mortar stores – in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Santa Monica and Washington D.C. – let customers use a QR code through the app as identification and passport for their entire experience. They can grab what they want, walk up to a terminal, scan the badge, scan the item and walk out.

There are also 28 drop-off locations for returns, through WeWork, a shared space provider in many urban locations used by startups and small businesses.


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