Rent the Runway is taking a page from Amazon’s playbook, facilitating easier merchandise returns by rolling out a number of convenient drop-off locations. And it’s doing it in collaboration with WeWork.
On Thursday, the fashion rental company launched drop-off boxes equipped with self-service technology at 15 WeWork locations, divvied among New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami and Washington, D.C. The boxes, previously found exclusively at Rent the Runway’s five retail locations, allow customers to scan and drop rented items, receiving immediate credit for the return rather than wait out shipping.
The time difference is especially meaningful for Rent the Runway’s Unlimited members, allotted four items at a time for $159 per month. (The Unlimited program launched in early 2016, and the company reports 10 million “members,” defined as those with logins to its website.) They can then select their next round of pieces, which arrive via free two-day shipping, or on the same day for Manhattanites.
According to Maureen Sullivan, Rent the Runway’s COO, Unlimited members are wearing Rent the Runway 120 days a year, and they’re traveling good distances to use the in-store drop-off boxes. The boxes account for 60 percent of all in-store transactions, which have increased 200 percent per store, on average, since the first location opened in NYC’s Flatiron neighborhood in 2014. Foot traffic has increased 100 percent in the same period.
“The long-term vision is: Picking up your Rent the Runway order and returning it should be as easy as getting your Starbucks coffee,” Sullivan said. “This is an important step.”
She said WeWork made an ideal partner thanks, in part, to the placement of its locations, convenient to where Rent the Runway customers live and work. What’s more, the companies are serving like customers: Ninety percent of Rent the Runway customers are working women, she said. The company has actively been expanding its assortment based on all use cases related to work.
The drop-off boxes — which can be found in WeWork’s lobbies, allowing easy access to non-WeWork members — were equipped with coffee and handbag stations, catering to the “working girl on the go.” Aside from serving current customers, the hope for Rent the Runway is that the boxes will attract new customers in WeWork members, who doubled in number in 2017, according to the company. (Across its 207 global locations, it counts 268,000 members.)
“There’s real potential for this partnership to grow, especially in most popular locations,” said Sullivan, adding that setting up closets and fulfillment capabilities in WeWork locations is a possibility.
The deal calls to mind recent moves by Amazon: In a play to offer customers more convenience — and save itself money — Amazon has increasingly been building on its available pick-up and return centers. In addition to kiosks at college campuses, and its own network of Amazon Books, Amazon Go and Whole Foods locations, customers can return Amazon-bought items through emerging, post office-like storefronts and even Kohl’s.
A screenshot from the RTR’s app, promoting the WeWork drop-off boxes
To promote the launch, Rent the Runway and WeWork featured across their digital platforms images from an editorial photoshoot featuring 10 inspiring WeWork members, based in the cities with the new boxes. Each is shown wearing a look chosen through their Rent the Runway subscription. In addition, the 15 WeWork locations hosted post-work events for both companies’ members showcasing a selection of styles typically found in Rent the Runway stores. In New York, a Chelsea location also featured a fireside chat with Rent the Runway founder Jenn Hyman and Artie Minson, WeWork’s president and COO. Ongoing events will be programmed throughout the partnership, the terms of which the companies would not disclose.
For WeWork, the Rent the Runway partnership is in keeping with its recent initiatives tending toward the retail industry. In June, the company launched WeMrkt, an updated version of Honesty Market introduced in 2013, offering up more products for members, by members, for purchase at select locations. Minson said the plan is to increase WeMrkt locations across the U.S. and internationally in the coming months, with a goal of opening them in remaining WeWork locations in 2019.
Rent the Runway is also in growth mode: Just last month, it introduced a beta test of an on-demand texting service called “VIP Concierge,” billed as a personal stylist and closet consultant available 24/7 — it was timed with the opening of San Francisco’s first standalone Rent the Runway store. Since July, Rent the Runway has sent multiple surveys to customers, hinting that adjacent services are set to be menu items in the future — for example, one question gauged interest in getting a gym membership through the company.
“Our customer is short on time, and saving her time is the north star in everything we do,” Sullivan said when asked about the surveys. “If we can continue to create value for her, that’s a huge win — she’ll see that having the subscription forever is a must.”