Urban Outfitters’ announcement that it was moving into the world of fashion for rent about a month ago was surprising — and also not.
The offering itself is somewhat familiar to apparel market watchers who have watched the evolution of the rental clothing box industry over the last half-decade.
The service, to be called Nuuly when it debuts later this summer, gives consumers the option to pick up six items a month for a fee of $88, wear them, and return them to pick up their next six. The value of the offering, by Urban Outfitters’ estimates, represents about $800 in value monthly. Consumers will also have the option of purchasing the outfits they want to keep — though the mechanics of that and whether or not it will involve a discount are still up in the air.
The launch is going fairly broad in terms of items available — Nuuly will reportedly stock 1,000 different clothing items at launch and add up to 100 new items per week through the end of 2019. Items up for grab will include UO’s in-house brands (Anthropologie and Free People) as well as items from partner streetwear and denim brands, including Reebok, Fila, Champion, Levi’s, Wrangler and Citizens of Humanity.
To bring that touch of exclusivity to the offer, the subscription will also offer shoppers some access to a “curated selection” of “rare vintage” and an assortment of designer labels, including Universal Standard and Anna Sui.
The move was unsurprising, given Rent The Runway’s recent unicorn-level billion dollar valuation and the host of imitators and variations on the rent-instead-of-own theme have that have popped up on the scene in the wake of Rent The Runway’s success. The perhaps surprising — or at least question-provoking — part of the Nuuly launch is why Urban Outfitters would want to step into a landscape that is already crowded.
“We believe the Nuuly subscriber will appreciate our distinctive Anthropologie, Free People and Urban Outfitters brands and their proprietary assortments, and the breadth and variety of our overall assortment,” David Hayne, president of Nuuly and chief digital officer of URBN, said in an interview with PSFK.
The expansion into subscription apparel commerce, according to Hayne, comes as part of the brand’s natural evolution —along with its customer — through digital and omnicommerce channels. What customers have been showing interest in, he noted, are subscription and sharing economy business models — among all our brand’s demographics. Nuuly is an attempt to take what Urban Outfitters is already good at in the brand and apparel arenas and expand it into an entirely new service model for customers looking for a different way to shop.
And for Urban Outfitters, a brand that has had some difficulty translating itself into the digital era, the shift also comes as the chain looks for new ways to reinvigorate foot traffic numbers that have been declining for the last few years as their target young and hip audience have gravitated away from the brick-and-mortar experience.
The new offering hopes to solve the “paradox of the millennials’ quest for constant fashion newness alongside the desire for a more sustainable lifestyle” by using rentals as a method of giving customers the best of both worlds.
“This provides [the shopper] with a tremendous amount of flexibility and novelty in her wardrobe, without the expense of retail,” David Hayne said, noting that the experience also gives customers a chance to experiment with looks they otherwise might not have attempted, or try out brands that would otherwise be out of their reach.
“We see Nuuly as a way for subscribers to augment their wardrobe with items they’d like to experiment with. If a subscriber finds something she loves, she can also choose to purchase it from Nuuly, often at a discount from retail.”
The challenge and the trick, of course, is standing out in a crowded field where a lot of other players are attempting to make a similar move. Urban Outfitters does have the benefit of a well-established brand behind it — but it also has the reality that the well-established brand has been having trouble attracting the cool-kid audience it relies on to signal-boost its products.
Creating more opportunities for shoppers could well be the right play here — as well as the fashionable one — but it will rise and fall on what goods exactly are up for grabs when the service launches this summer and whether that’s enough to help Nuuly stand out in the field.