Customers use Rent the Runway to pick out designer dresses and have them delivered in time for a special event. Then they send the dresses back to be dry-cleaned and sent to the next customer in line. The company tells customers to think of its service as a best friend with a well-stocked closet.
Behind the scenes, custom software and precision logistics make matching customers with outfits and getting them delivered in time as much a science as an art, says Rent the Runway CTO Camille Fournier.
“We are very much a data-driven company,” she says. “We measure everything here.”
Building risk management and other software tools for Goldman Sachs helped prepare her for this role, which has included building inventory software to minimize the time expensive dresses spend sitting in its warehouses while leaving enough margins to make sure customers get the outfits they want, when they want them.
“Our goal is to create a brain inside of our warehouse that really understands our current inventory status [and] our future demand,” she says.
Here are five ways Rent The Runways is using data to make business decisions.
Custom shipping software decides when there’s time to save money by having a customer send a dress back via ground delivery versus when it needs to travel by next-day air. “We want to be aggressive–we just don’t want to be too aggressive with how we model our inventory,” says Fournier. “We need to know lots of information about how many we have, how many reservations we have for when and we also want to maximize the return on investment we get from our inventory.”
Customers in New York and Las Vegas can also visit physical showrooms to try on and pick up dresses, and Manhattanites can receive their dresses on their own schedules delivered by courier.
And as soon as a dress returns to the company’s 40,000-square-foot warehouse–soon to be upgraded to 160,000 square feet–that virtual brain knows how quickly it needs to be inspected, cleaned, and sent back into the world. “The minute that your package is scanned into customer receiving, that station knows what’s in the package and knows whether it’s needed for shipping out today or tomorrow or if it’s not that urgent,” says Fournier.
Rent the Runway strives to show its website visitors the dresses they’ll like as quickly as possible. “We want to be able to keep you from getting fatigue at seeing so many styles and so many different options,” she says. “We believe that if you order it’s because you found something that you love.”
When customers visit Rent the Runway, the company’s recommendation engine presents them with dresses selected based on their browsing and rental history, age bracket, and other factors.
Customers can get more hands-on advice from a Rent the Runway stylist at the company’s brick-and-mortar locations or through email.
Customers are encouraged to submit reviews of the dresses they rent, complete with photos, which help improve recommendations and let others with similar measurements see how they might look.
“We have a process that does analysis on all of our reviews that have been submitted,” she says. “Obviously you don’t have to upload a photo, but we have tens of thousands of photos of people on our site.”
All orders include two sizes of the desired dress, and if neither fits, that information’s used to improve future recommendations, says Fournier.
“If you have the experience where you rent something and neither dress fits, you can return it and get a full credit on your order,” she says.
The company’s buyers use a mix of industry experience and expertise to spot fashion trends early on. They keep a close eye on trends at Fashion Week and “read Vogue all the time,” says Fournier–but they’re also looking at customer data to decide what new dresses to order.
“We just learn a lot based on general browsing patterns of our audience,” she says. “We really have an advantage in our business in that we can see a lot of information.”