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TREND BRIEFING How new ecommerce rental services are offering sustainable alternatives

Shoppers can ring the changes in their wardrobes by subscribing to rent clothing from retailers including Moss Bros. Image courtesy of Moss Bros/CaaStle.jpg

Over the last year, services have emerged to give shoppers the option of renting items that they previously they might have bought. 

Such services take the idea of subscriptions – another concept that is growing in popularity – on another step. According to the DMA, more than a third of shoppers subscribed to a service in 2020. Subscribers are often buying products that they have run out of – from veg boxes to regular coffee orders through to deodorant refills – in order to use them again. To date, subscriptions have most often been about services, such as next-day delivery, or about consumables. They can also intersect with sustainability, when shoppers can extend the life of a consumable product or product container by subscribing to refills. 

But online subscription rentals can widen the number of people who can get access to a product. Music Magpie, for example, is now renting smartphones to customers, in a way that promises to bring them within shoppers’ reach.

John Lewis has over the last year expanded its furniture rental scheme with Fat Llama, and it said in October that it had 20 different rental, recycling or resale schemes underway.

Both Moss Bros and LK Bennett are using technology from clothing-as-a-service retailer CaaStle that the technology provider says fit well into a circular retail model. 

By renting, shoppers get to wear more clothes than they otherwise may have done. Moss Bros’ Moss Box enable male shoppers to pay a monthly fee to rent its smart and casual clothing, while swapping items in and out when convenient. Thus users can rent a work suit before sending it back to swap for something to wear at a dinner out – or at a weekend event.

Similarly LK Bennett’s LK Borrowed service enables shoppers to rent its clothes in a way that promises a waste-free wardrobe. Both services promise eco-friendly laundering, while they are also billed as convenient, with free deliveries and returns. 

LK Bennett chief executive Darren Topp says: “We believe this new rental offering will attract a new customer base to LKB, as it will satisfy those seeking a more sustainable way of shopping. We don’t see this replacing core ecommerce, but rather complementing it and adding choice. Rental will allow customers who can’t afford or don’t want to spend the amount required to own an LKB item to wear an LKB outfit for a special occasion. If they’re already an LKB fan, this service enables them to rotate their wardrobe regularly and get fresh items for their everyday wardrobe”.

However, there are warnings that clothing rental services may not be as green as they seem, with hidden delivery and packaging identified as costs on the environment in a recent study that appears in scientific journal Environmental Research Letters. 

In a related area, Ikea is now operating a buyback service for preloved furniture in the UK, as part of its move towards a circular economy.  That reflects the findings in RetailX’s recent Homewares report that sustainability will be a key driver for both sector, as it satisfies demand from shoppers to buy in a more thoughtful way. 

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