Rent the Runway Electrifies Offline Expansion with Digitally-Enhanced NY Flagship

The future of retail used to be ecommerce. Now it seems that online retailers are deciding that their futures will rely on bricks-and-mortar – and digitally-enhanced bricks-and-mortar at that. Increasingly, we’re seeing a host of online-born businesses taking the plunge into the physical realms of offline retail, as in-store customer experiences form the new battle ground for consumer attention.

Amazon caused quite a stir in December last year when it premiered a video advertising Amazon Go – a grocery store that allows customers to pick items off the shelves and “just walk out”. But, leaving the world’s highest-profile e-tailer aside, over the last few years some 20 online companies in the US have launched a physical presence as a means to better market their wares and serve their customers in more meaningful ways. Casper, Birchbox, Bonobos, and Warby Parker all come readily to mind when we think about such online-to-offline expansions – but when it comes to something truly digitally-inspired, it’s the new flagship from designer dress and accessories rental company Rent the Runway that we must look to.

The Samsung Partnership

Founded in 2009, Rent the Runway began life as an ecommerce company that gave women the chance to access designer fashion items through accessory and apparel rentals. Known for its huge catalogue of over 200,000 pieces from over 400 renowned designers, Rent the Runway presented an online “dream closet” for its 6 million members, who could rent designer pieces for 4-8 days at just 10% of what it would cost to buy them outright. But, in more recent times, it has been exploring offline growth ventures and expanding its physical footprint with seven retail stores in six US cities – Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Washing DC, Las Vegas and New York.

In December 2016, Rent the Runway’s brand new flagship store was opened in lower Manhattan. The brand had teamed up with Samsung to outfit the new store with technology – including 32-inch endcap displays that let shoppers browse items for rent via touchscreen, interactive fitting room mirrors, and a 75-foot-tall digital video wall – and finally bring its online “dream closet” to life.

Check out the video below for an overview of what the new Rent the Runway store looks like.

Located in the Flatiron District, the 4,000 square foot store is three times the size of its six other locations, and has been specially designed to merge Rent the Runway’s digital assets (i.e. its website and app) with physical elements in order to create highly-personalized customer experiences for every member who steps foot through the front doors. The idea is that all inconveniences typically associated with in-store shopping are minimized.

Customers arrive and scan-in at “Check-in kiosks”, which then use online data to guide each customer through their shopping trip based on how they’ve interacted with Rent the Runway before – whether on the website, in the app, or in a store. Designer preferences, favourite styles, and the customer’s upcoming events schedule are all available to store associates via each member’s online “style profile”, giving way to extremely personalized shopping experiences that associates are on-hand to help with.

“Everything around the store experience is based on our customer’s needs,” said Maureen Sullivan, president, Rent the Runway. “Ninety percent of our customers work, and the most important thing to them is their time. Everything has to be as efficient as possible.”

(Image source:

Shoppers who are just popping in to pick up a dress they’ve ordered will find it waiting for them at the RTR Bar – an all-purpose service counter, similar to Apple’s Genius Bar. A drop-off area also features, which allows customers to return their items and leave again in a matter of seconds. There are 16 fitting rooms in the store – but, if there happens to be a queue, shoppers are notified by text when theirs is ready.

It’s all astoundingly convenient, and is supported by two new features to the Rent the Runway mobile app – RTR Now, which provides a real-time store inventory view, and RTR Concierge, which enables customers to interact with store associates. Using the app, shoppers are able to pre-select items they want to try on when they enter the store.

Digital Walls and Interactive Mirror Displays

And indeed it is from the moment that a customer does enter that they are greeted with additional experience-enhancing technology. Samsung’s 75-foot digital wall stands near the entrance, displaying runway images, client stories and collection inspirations. The main focal point, however, is the Dream Closet, slap bang in the centre of the store. No mannequins. No racks. Instead, built-in displays of clothes with four of Samsung’s 32-inch endcap digital displays serving as a “closet in the cloud” as shoppers can rummage through the entire Rent the Runway inventory of some 200,000 items.

“We’ve seen that physical retail works for us,” said Jennifer Hyman, co-founder and CEO. “When you see some of this inventory in person, it’s on a whole other level. You see the fabric, you see the quality.”

Inside the fitting rooms are interactive mirrors (also by Samsung), featuring LCD screen layers embedded into the mirror glass, which allow shoppers to see themselves “wearing” multiple dress options without having to change clothes or even leave the dressing room. Customers can also interact with sales associates via the mirror, as they work together to mix and match the perfect outfit.

Merging Technology with Design

Rent the Runway has figured out how to seamlessly combine their trusted online business model with an outstanding in-store shopping experience. Fusing technology with design is widely touted as being the future of the fashion industry, and, as more ecommerce players evolve to incorporate bricks-and-mortar, serving customers wherever and however they’re most comfortable – in-store, online, or in-app – is the key to digitally-enhanced success. Rent the Runway is utilising technology to deliver customers dream versions of their clothes closets in-stores – and that’s an experience that can never be equalled in front of a computer or mobile phone

The last word goes to Maureen Sullivan. “It isn’t technology for technology’s sake, but technology that really enhances the customer experience.”

Make sure to also download the Future Stores agenda to check out all of the great activities, speakers, & sessions planned for this year.

Return to Blog