The Pandemic Is Hitting Rental Services Hard — Now Rent the Runway Is Closing Its Stores

The coronavirus has hit rental fashion services hard. Now, as the pandemic rages on, Rent the Runway is closing its five stores.

The subscription platform, which rents out apparel and accessories, said today it would close units in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.

“The closure of our retail stores is something we had long considered as part of the evolution of our overall business strategy — as the primary use-case of our stores for the past few years has been pick-up and drop-off — and was a decision we accelerated during the pandemic,” said Anushka Salinas, President and COO of Rent the Runway. “We will continue to innovate our experience to best suit the changes in our customer’s lives even in a new normal.”

Now the company, which ships to 76% of zipcodes, plans to emphasize it digital operations and add more return boxes in key places. About 47% of Rent the Runway’s consumers live outside of major cities.

The news, which comes amid a spate of retail closings and bankruptcies, came months after the company laid off some retail workers in March — when stores were first forced to shut down.

While Rent the Runway is considered a pioneer in the subscription market, companies from all corners of fashion had jumped on the rental trend before the coronavirus upended every aspect of retail. In February, Selfridges and Diane von Furstenberg both jumped in with new programs in February following a burst of activity across the department store sector.

But as consumers stayed home during widespread lockdowns, the idea of wearing clothes previously worn by someone else was unthinkable as the virus continued to spread. Plus, parties and weddings were canceled, work-from-home took over and shoppers were instead snapping up slippers and sweatpants.

In March, Rent the Runway addressed customers’ concerns over its garment-cleaning processes. The company wrote that its cleaning agents are designed to kill viruses such as the common cold and the flu.

“While scientific information is still developing, we have no reason to believe that our processes are ineffective against COVID-19,” the email read. “The teams in our fulfillment centers will continue to use a variety of techniques to ensure that each garment is thoroughly cleaned, steamed and pressed, inspected for quality and carefully packaged so that it arrives ready to wear.”

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