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The New Rental Economy: 5 Startups That, Like Ikea And Rent The Runway, Are Pushing Into New Categories
Welcome to retail 2019, when no sale is ever final.
From monthly rentals to circular product swapping, more retailers are catering the whims of shoppers who are inclined to invest in what they fantasize their homes and lives to be for occasions, but not forever.
Rent The Runway spotlighted this purchasing proclivity with its recent expansion into reusable home furnishings through a partnership with West Elm. Rent the Runway follows Fernish, whose Seattle and Los Angeles subscribers can rent, trade and buy individual furnishings or curated collections. And companies such as Joymode sell rental subscriptions for items ranging from martini kits to pizza ovens.
Big brands are eyeing the concept as well: Ikea is planning a furniture leasing program in Switzerland.
Furniture is just an indicator, however. Borrowing is not low-rent; it’s high style, regardless of the items changing hands. It’s swapping — a term very palatable in the widely accepted sharing economy. Temporary purchasing in fact shares many characteristics of the sharing economy, which indicates more product categories will be absorbed into this model of consumerism.
Temporary Vanity: The Psychology Behind Interim Ownership
By extending from apparel to the home and beyond, retailers suggest the prognosis for the borrowing economy’s longevity is better than that of the products involved.
That it seeks to extend the lifecycle of the products traded is fitting, considering its origins exist, in part, in the fast-fashion craze made possible by low-priced, uber-trendy chains such as Forever 21. Twenty years later, conscientious shoppers are less comfortable contributing to the world’s growing waste problem. Merchants spotted the opportunity and rentals became vogue — a feel-good, feasible alternative for a post-recession population.
Psychologically, temporary ownership appeals because it feels as if we are investing in experiences, not ownership. Materialism is increasingly viewed as a yoke — it could even suppress joy, as demonstrated by millions of fans of Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo. But an ongoing, sharing relationship with a trusted person or brand, that’s community building; it’s healthy. The disposable becomes indispensable.
Swapping In Focus, From Land To Sea
Those projections borrow from the belief that sharing, renting and swapping will extend into a variety of categories, such as the large home furnishings sector.
Rent The Runway’s partnership with West Elm enables shoppers to rent “bundles” of pillows, throws and other decorative items for the bedroom and living room, and then return or purchase them after 30 days. And Ikea’s Swiss-based leasing test, which will begin with office furniture, is motivated by a strategy that can easily jump borders: It just wants to prolong the life if its furnishings.
Among merchants that are taking the leap outside of furniture and apparel:
Green Piñata: This educational toy club ships boxes of playthings selected from a catalog organized by curriculum. For $25 a month, parents can select four toys by age group (six months to five years) as well as play skill, such as cognitive or social. The child can play with the toys for as long as he wants before returning for a new box (shipping is free), and parents have the option to buy the toys.
Getaround: This free membership service links drivers to a range of cars, from Toyotas to Teslas, that they share with nearby renters for as little as $5 an hour. All rentals include insurance and roadside assistance. Those who rent out their cars through Getaround get dedicated parking spots and $50 monthly driving credits toward their own rentals.
Parachut: Designed for creative people who might not be able or willing to invest in expensive camera gear, Parachut rents outs high-end equipment from individuals, manufacturers and brands. Subscribers can use the gear as long as necessary, paying daily rates. A Mavic Pro drone, for example, rents for $7 a day. Parachut “pros” are available to help users.
Rocksbox: Movie stars borrow diamonds for the red carpet, so why shouldn’t everyday people sport temporary baubles at a party? For $21 a month, subscribers build wish lists of items from a catalog of thousands of designer and exclusive pieces. A personal stylist then selects three pieces for the member to rent as long as she desires. If the member falls in love with a piece, she can apply the $21 fee to its purchase.
Antlos: An actual peer-to-pier marketplace (sorry), Antlos enables those who want yacht vacations to take them, without spending millions. Its yacht “Skippers” operate from the Caribbean to Croatia, and every boat comes equipped with an on-board captain (or skipper). The renter does not even have to know how to sail. Not all boats are yachts — one recent search turned up a catamaran, available in Greece, for $403 a day per guest.
What is consistent across all of these services is users have the option to own what they rent. But even then, shoppers should think about their product’s next life. Because somewhere, there will likely be a service or merchant prepared to re-enter these items into the economy, to be refurbished, rented or shared without the commitment of ownership. No sale, or experience, will be final.