From Books To Bridal Gowns, Renting Emerges As An Option To Owning

By Mary Beth Breckenridge
Akron Beacon Journal

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) From handbags to prom dresses, even kitchen gadgets, the rental economy is booming. Trend watchers say renting is especially strong among younger consumers who embrace trying new things and don’t want to be saddled with obsolete or unwanted goods.

Akron Beacon Journal

For years, college students followed the same start-of-the-semester ritual: trudge to the bookstore, load up on textbooks and empty the checking account in a single transaction.

Now it’s possible to do that book shopping with a few clicks of a smartphone and still have money for pizza.

Welcome to the rental economy, where stuff is cheaper and possession is a temporary concept.

Renting has been around since long before Avis, of course, but the trend has ballooned in recent years. Today, you can rent handbags, prom dresses, even kitchen gadgets or a suit for a job interview.

Trend watchers say renting is especially strong among younger consumers who embrace trying new things and don’t want to be saddled with obsolete or unwanted goods. Some are motivated by an ecological desire to reduce manufacturing and consumption.

“More and more people are not desiring to fill their lives with things,” said Nathan Schultz, chief learning officer for Chegg, an online company that rents textbooks and provides a range of other services to students. Especially with younger consumers, “ownership is not one of their values,” he said.

It’s probably no surprise that young adults raised on Netflix and cellphone contracts would drive this rental trend. They’re accustomed to upgrading their technology on a regular basis and renting everything from the last season of Orange is the New Black to a guest room in a stranger’s house. And most of them are comfortable with online transactions, which is how most of the new rental companies do business.

“I think Americans are just more open to shared services,” said Michelle Korchinski, marketing director for the clothing-rental company Gwynnie Bee. Consumers have developed an appetite for ever-changing experiences, and renting makes that affordable, she said.

Besides, who doesn’t love a bargain?

Kent State University senior Kay Caprez does, which is why she has rented most of her textbooks from Chegg since the first semester of her freshman year.

Caprez said she’s motivated mainly by the savings, which Chegg’s Schultz said can range from 60 or 70 percent off list price for an unused, just-released book to as much as 90 percent for some older, used volumes.

Chegg users choose their books online and have them delivered in a couple of days. At the end of the semester, they ship the books back in the same box, using a prepaid shipping label.

Caprez said she’s never had a problem with the service, even when she puts off renting a book because she isn’t sure she’ll really need it, only to discover the professor has made an assignment from it. She just uses an electronic version in the meantime, which the company provides free for seven days while the book is being shipped.

Chegg discourages writing notes in books, but highlighting is OK. That’s fine with Caprez, who admitted with a laugh that a previous renter did some of her work by leaving “some very helpful highlights” in one of the books she’s currently using.

One of the growing segments of the rental industry is clothing, an area Akron resident Angela Cain first experienced about a year ago when she took advantage of a 30-day free trial from the online business Gwynnie Bee.

She’d heard about the company, which specializes in plus-size women’s fashions, from some YouTube personalities she follows. “I thought, you know, that would be really neat to have access to so many designer dresses,” she said.

Cain’s subscription allows her to borrow one item at a time, which lets her rotate her wardrobe without paying store prices.

She said she likes having access to stylish, good-quality clothing, which can be hard to find in plus sizes. She also likes the site’s discounted prices for the items she chooses to buy and the additional discounts it offers periodically.

Gwynnie Bee charges a monthly fee, which varies by the type of subscription, Korchinski said. The most popular subscription is three items at a time for $95 a month, but users can opt for as few as one for $49 or as many as 10 for $199.

The clothing rental trend even extends to wedding gowns, the specialty of online retailer Borrowing Magnolia. Co-founder Ashley Steele said she and her sister, Cali Brutz, started the company after hearing complaints about wedding-dress shopping from clients of a wedding photography business they also run.

The company rents and sells designer gowns from the last five years, Steele said. Dress owners pay the company a yearly fee to offer their gowns for sale, rent or both, and brides generally rent dresses for about 30 percent of the retail price.

Borrowing Magnolia’s customers tend to be early adopters of technology, and many are from big metropolitan areas such as Chicago and New York, Steele said. Some, however, are from rural areas without easy access to bridal boutiques, and some are getting married on too short a timeline to order a dress months in advance.

Perhaps most surprising is that few are driven by tight finances. Most of Borrowing Magnolia’s customers are financially independent, Steele said, “so it’s not like they’re doing this because they have to.”

The company lets clients rent dresses short-term to try on at home, and it allows alterations as long as they’re reversible, Steele said. The bride just returns the dress dirty after the wedding, and Borrowing Magnolia cleans it and, if necessary, makes repairs.

To date, she said, the company has never had a dress come back that was beyond its staff’s ability to clean and repair it, and Steele thinks that’s a testament to the rental culture.

The kinds of people who choose her company’s services are accustomed to sharing, she said, whether it’s apparel from Le Tote or a house through Airbnb. They’re used to being careful and respectful of other people’s property.

And by renting, they’re exposed to more options, Gwynnie Bee’s Korchinski said.

“It really gives the consumer the opportunity to try new brands, new styles, new prints,” she said. “… It’s a very interesting movement in the American economy right now.”

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