Millennial consumers are a mobile group – according to data analysis by FiveThirtyEight, the average millennial makes 12 moves between moving out of their parents' home at college graduation and buying their first home. Frequent moves create all kinds of life complications for younger consumers, especially involving furniture and how to manage it throughout a move.
Aside from the most ascetic types, everyone needs at least some level of home furnishings – at minimum, a couch, a table, a few chairs and a bed. And while all of those objects are attainable, buying any of them at a reasonable level of quality expensive – and moving them is a difficult logistical hassle, whether that move is cross-country or just a few blocks to a new apartment.
“They’re moving a lot. They’re changing jobs a lot,” Thomas Robertson, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, told The New York Times of the semi-nomadic millennial consumer. “Why would you want to be saddled with furniture?”
As it turns out, many millennials – particularly those still involved in the multiple-moves phase of their lives – would prefer to not own furniture at all, but would still like to have a nice couch in their apartment, no matter how long they intend to stay in it.
Which is where Feather comes in, among the rising tide of eCommerce destinations offering consumers what they call “flexible ownership” of furniture, otherwise known as rentals.
Customers can choose to pay a $19 monthly membership fee, which includes discounts on rental fees, a yearly changeout of furniture free of charge, and free “white glove” assembly of all products delivered. Another option is to rent home furnishings a la carte – according to CEO Jay Reno, inventory is sourced from the stores where their customers would likely shop, such as West Elm, Pottery Barn, Casper, Leesa and Joybird.
The goal, said Reno, is to help younger consumers who anticipate having a fairly temporary relationship with their furnishings to move away from buying “fast furniture” that looks okay but falls apart fairly quickly – and away from Craigslist offerings. Both, he noted, tend to contribute to the 9.7 million tons of discarded furniture that ends up in landfills each year. Instead, Feather offers the same transient relationship with their furnishings without the waste – when a customer goes off to their new home, so does the couch they’ve been using.
Rental furniture is not a new concept for commerce. The ranking champion in the arena, Rent-A-Center, has been in business since 1973. But its target demographic is quite different from that of the new generation of urban furniture rental services. Customers at Rent-A-Center tend to be low-income consumers who need a couch but lack the cash or credit resources to buy one outright, or real estate professionals who need to rent home furnishings short-term for staging purposes.
Feather’s core customer doesn’t much resemble that group. The company’s main demographic includes consumers between the ages of 25 and 35 who are employed and have disposable income. They are not renting furniture because they face a cashflow issue that prevents them from buying it, but because it supports a lifestyle that anticipates a decade of home changes.
Millennial consumers are different than their preceding generations in many ways: They move more and are less likely to prioritize ownership over access. But a couch is somewhat different than a movie – and it remains to be seen whether swapping out access for ownership will have the same reach when it comes to essential items customers use in their everyday lives.