Bloomingdale’s is entering the subscription rental business, embarking on a format that’s quickly gaining popularity in the retail industry.
The online subscription rental service, called “My List at Bloomingdale’s,” is scheduled to launch in mid-September with a fall ready-to-wear assortment with hundreds of women’s styles from more than 60 brands and more than 100 exclusive pieces.
“There is a noticeable shift in customer behavior,” observed Denise Magid, Bloomingdale’s executive vice president and general merchandise manager of rtw, bloomingdales.com and concessions, spelling out the factors behind the decision to launch the service.
“Urbanization has led to people living in smaller homes or apartments with limited space for clothes. Netflix has changed the way we consume movies, while Uber and Airbnb have made it second nature to share our car rides and our homes. Fashion is no exception and our customer is no exception — she wants variety, discovery and experience.”
In addition, consumers, particularly Millennials, are responding to subscription rentals because they support recycling and sustainability, and these services provide the chance to often change what they’re wearing, without a big investment.
Rent the Runway is considered a leader in the fashion rental format. The company has been growing rapidly, particularly with a subscription service called Unlimited that launched in 2016.
In addition, there’s been a proliferation of retailers and brands over the past few years launching similar services, such as Express’ Style Trial, American Eagle Style Drop, Vince Unfold, Rebecca Taylor RNTD, Ann Taylor Infinite Style, Infinitely Loft and New York & Company’s NY&C Closet. Last month, URBN, the parent company of Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and Free People, launched its Nuuly subscription rental business.
Bloomingdale’s program will be head-on competition, especially considering the upscale department store’s clout with designers and brands and formidable merchandising.
If My List proves successful, it’s conceivable that Macy’s rolls out a subscription rental business as well. Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s are part of Macy’s Inc. and they learn from each other.
Magid characterized the Bloomingdale’s My List assortment as focused on “current season wear-to-work, desk-to-dinner and weekend styles” with an emphasis on trends, as well as “everyday” pieces from fashion-forward labels including All Saints, Ba&sh and Kooples. Dresses, denim, outerwear, sweaters, jumpsuits and tops are in the My List. Accessories, men’s and kids’ wear are not part of the program, at least at the outset.
“For fall 2019 there will be a big presence of animal print as well as leather, including vegan leather, in a range of colors and silhouettes plus ‘wow’ pieces like a Ba&sh maxi animal-print dress,” Magid said. “It’s all about the mix and having options to help define your personal style.”
Magid said the My List assortment will cover all women’s apparel categories. Among the offerings: Ramy Brook dresses, J Brand denim, Mackage outerwear and cashmere from Aqua, the Bloomingdale’s private brand. Several brands make their debut on a subscription rental platform including Frame. And there are some new labels on My List, such as Lini, sold exclusively at Bloomingdale’s.
“She can keep the cycle going constantly. That’s a big differentiator” from other rental services, Magid said of the My List customer. “If she falls in love with an item, she has the option to buy it.”
Items will be added each week to My List, providing members with an opportunity to experiment with looks and trends they haven’t worn before, as well as rent brands they have worn before.
“We’ve carefully curated the assortment on My List from our overall inventory,” Magid said. “It will span a range from edgy to feminine, with a super emphasis on trend, which Bloomingdale’s is known for, and fashion. Women love the opportunity to explore different styles. With My List, we are giving her the opportunity to discover and experience Bloomingdale’s in any way she wants, whether she wants to buy or rent. We are meeting her where she wants to engage.
“The customer can browse the curated assortment of wear-to-work, desk-to-dinner and weekend styles then add pieces she loves to her list. She’s also able to prioritize favorites. Within three business days, a beautiful box arrives containing four pieces from her list. Once ready for a new batch, pieces are returned and a new selection of four items is sent out immediately with no limit to this cycle.”
Bloomingdale’s said between uses, each item goes through “an extensive cleaning and care process” and gets inspected for quality control. Bloomingdale’s has partnered with a third-party company, CaaStle, which is powering the back end, including fulfillment and the cleaning of clothes. CaaStle provides technology, reverse logistics and managed services to help retailers participate in the new economy.
Some department stores have dabbled in the rental format in one way or another. Nordstrom, for example, installed Rent the Runway drop-off boxes at three Nordstrom Local sites and one full-line Nordstrom department store, all in the Los Angeles area. Neiman Marcus opened a Rent the Runway shop inside its San Francisco store but eventually closed it.
Hudson’s Bay Co. is said to be close to a deal to sell Lord & Taylor to Le Tote, a subscription rental service based in San Francisco that has been gaining momentum. Le Tote would take over the Lord & Taylor stores and implement a rental service at Lord & Taylor and other Hudson’s Bay divisions.
But for the moment, Bloomingdale’s becomes the only department store with a full-fledged subscription rental service. Magid formed a team managing My List, which reports to her.
“We don’t see anything like our program out there,” Magid said. “We have been working on this for a long time, about a year and half, from conversation to the execution. We’re putting a stake in the ground.”
Asked if renting fashion is more complicated than selling it, Magid replied, “I don’t think we know the answer yet.
“We have great vendor partnerships,” Magid added. “They are really excited to be part of this new venture. A lot of them just jumped at the chance to partner with us in another capacity. Everybody recognizes consumer behavior is changing.”
Here’s how My List will work.
1. Subscribers will be charged $149 a month. There’s a referral incentive of $25 for every member who joins.
2. Subscribers browse the mylistatbloomindales.com, a separate web site from bloomingdales.com, with its own platform, and create a list of at least 10 pieces they want to rent, with the ability to prioritize favorites. There will also be a link from the Bloomingdale’s site.
3. Within three business days, a branded box is delivered, containing four pieces from the list. Once ready for a new batch, pieces are returned and a new selection of four items is sent out immediately with no limit to this cycle. Shipping and returns are free.
4. A prepaid envelope is provided for the returns.
5. Subscribers can hold onto the clothes for as long as they want, and can return and receive batches of clothes as frequently as they want. All four items must be returned to receive the next batch.
6. Subscribers can purchase any item they order.
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