Admin note: Our very own Mark Fidelman hosted an influencer series with Oracle, this is one of those videos.
In 2016, e-commerce retail sales were expected to hit upwards of $1.9 trillion; a forecasted growth rate of 23.7%. Some have also predicted that this figure is expected to skyrocket to over $4 trillion by 2020.
In the face of this massive escalation in digital retail spending, brick and mortar store locations are shuddering at an unprecedented rate, yet have a clear plan of action: increase their digital presence in order to gain a foothold before physical retail shopping becomes an archaic practice.
Despite the clear trend of retail’s transition from physical to digital spaces, one disruptive and paradigm-shifting fashion company,Rent the Runway (RTR, which recently raised $60 million in Series E funding) has established a new model under which its high-end fashion rental brick-and-mortar locations are thriving. The eight-year-old company has 6 million members across the United States, and the brand is doubling down with its creative, tailored, and wholly unique in-store experiences with the opening of a flagship store that is triple the size of its other five locations.
To understand Rent the Runway’s (RTR) rebellion in building an offline existence (as opposed to a more significant online presence), I recently traveled to Manhattan for the most recent episode of Oracle Sponsored CX Factor to meet with RTR’s Chief Customer Officer, Koda Wang, to talk about the burgeoning brand’s focus on convenience and a top-notch customer experience on all of its platforms, including mobile, online, and retail locations.
If you think that physical retail stores are on their way out, think again. Here are some of the most enlightening points from my conversation with Koda.
Deliver a Unique and Tailored Experience
“Customers [shouldn’t have] to pick through 200,000 pieces of inventory. It’s our job, not their responsibility, to surface the best and most relevant products [and] styles for our customers.”
Much in the same way that Zappos considers itself “a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes,” Rent the Runway views its organization as a technology company at heart. From the moment that customers land on RTR’s website, application, or walk into a store, the brand starts to learn about its customer’s behaviors, style preferences, intentions, and other defining factors so as to deliver the best and most personal experience possible.
At the retailer’s newest location in Manhattan, check-in kiosks near the entrance give sales associates all the data they need to cater to the customer’s fashions choices.
A customer’s “personalized closet profile” includes data points such what they have recently browsed online, what designers they favor, birthday, rental histories, and many more details. All of this data helps associates create a frictionless experience and make appropriate recommendations based on upcoming occasions or intent.
Likening itself to services like Netflix or Spotify, Rent the Runway’s personalization features staunchly carry across all of its destinations: Mobile, desktop, and in-store.
Even when a customer is at a physical location, RTR continues collecting data on customers to refine the experience. While shopping, associates will ask questions about preferences and occasions — information that can further improve and customize the customer’s in-store and online experiences.
Additionally, customers aren’t using Rent the Runway’s store locations to just shop; they are also able to make orders online and pick up in-store, and the company uses these locations as supplemental fulfillment centers.
Empower Employees to Enchant Customers
“Even the best technology, the best operations, the best logistics can sometimes mess up. And in those instances, it’s our customer care and customer service team that really steps in. . . . So when the machine or the technology or the logistics does make a mistake, we have people who care a lot to be there for the customers and to make it right.”
Customer services representatives are on the front lines of an organization and are some of the few employees who can turn a consumer’s dreadful experience into a catalyst for lifelong loyalty.
Koda gave one such example in which a client had ordered a dress for a high-stakes Las Vegas event where she was a presenter and needed to be dressed to the nines for the occasion. Naturally, she shipped the dress to her house to take with her; that’s when misfortune struck.
The customer ultimately had to leave for her flight, but the dress had yet to arrive. Anxious and worried, the customer considered buying a dress at her destination but didn’t want to just “grab something off of the rack” or spend upwards of $1,000 on something she would likely wear only once.
That’s when she contacted RTR’s customer care center, who gave her personalized recommendations based on her, size, fit, profile, event type, and original order.
The customer picked a few dresses and Rent the Runway sent them directly to her hotel, along with some backup options, just in case.
Ultimately, the customer made her event in style and wrote RTR’s customer experience team to let them know that they had saved the day and that she was forever grateful.
This above-and-beyond experience, however, is no exception at Rent the Runway. Many of their customer experience associates are known as “fairy godmothers” because going the extra mile is what they do on a consistent basis. In extreme cases, it is not unheard of for one of the reps to take an Uber to deliver a dress at midnight.
Anything it takes to deliver a stellar and memorable experience, Rent the Runway is dedicated to execution.
Be Relentless About Innovation
“I think that if you take a look at really innovative companies, they’re not innovative because of a single [thing] that they do. They’re innovative because they have a culture that’s relentless. They have a culture that really tries to understand their customer. And that’s something that I think stays with you no matter what stage of the company or what products that you have.”
RTR’s extremely data-driven, analytical operation views itself as a tech company more than a fashion brand.
Through that paradigm, Rent the Runway is constantly improving its personalization technologies and customer experiences by gaining a more comprehensive understanding of their customers with each and every interaction.
One such thing they have discovered through long-term trends analyzation is that people are not paying attention to what is “hot” on the catwalk this season. People are more concerned with what is new to them and makes them feel good.
On a deeper level, Rent the Runway takes the data they gather and uses it to improve business in accordance with what the customer wants or needs most; this is how and why its subscription product was born.
By listening to their customers, RTR found that a lot of shoppers don’t only want to rent clothing for special occasions, but for their day-to-day work attire, everyday outfits, weekends, and weekdays as well.
This type of deep-diving data investigation is also where Rent the Runway’s Unlimited product was derived from; studying customer trends, desires, and sentiments and responding to that with a service that fills the void.
Rent the Runway’s deep-rooted, technologically-driven mindset, coupled with an uncompromising dedication to understand and serve their fan base, puts Rent the Runway in a unique position to revolutionize physical retail and personalized customer experiences; one dress at a time.