With less than 70 days until my wedding, I’d spent countless hours scouring websites, blogs, social networks, magazines, and mobile apps for inspiration to execute the big day on a budget. With so much to plan, searching for a bridal shower dress quickly became a burden. I was overwhelmed, but determined to find a dress that would over-deliver for the price.
During my search I discovered RentTheRunway.com, where I rented a great $400 designer dress for just $45 for a four-day rental.
More and more shoppers prefer paying for access rather than ownership—searching for something borrowed rather than something new—and revolutionizing retail.
The Millennial and Gen-Z generations are driving the emergence of a shared access economy. As this cultural shift continues, generations of shoppers beyond Gen-Z won’t just demand access, they’ll expect it as standard. Retailers and manufacturers need to understand how shared access is transcending into retail and how they can get into the business before they’re left behind.
First, let’s understand why this is happening. There has always been a distinction between the “Haves” and the “Have Nots.” Although society still navigates around the complexities of socio-economic status, the lines are blurring. Savvy consumers seek out innovative ways to access life’s luxuries.
Younger generations put a high premium on curating experiences. It’s less about getting “stuff” and more about amplifying an experience worth remembering. Their collaborative disposition not only makes it okay to share, it’s cool to share, especially if it means being more affordable for everyone.
In addition, shoppers are living in an era of conscience. They’re constantly reminded how their lifestyle impacts their health and wellness and that of the community and environment. Opting for access over ownership appeals because sharing a resource is less wasteful than owning something that may go unused. Shoppers also benefit from paying for usage rather than full price, giving them permission to be non-committal to purchase.
What triggers a desire for access over ownership? Shoppers are more likely to demand access when the occasion is pre-determined, they have limited time for use, and a limited budget. I needed a dress for a special occasion. Others may need a temporary car reserved via ZipCar or vacation lodging through AirBnB.
We already know access isn’t exclusive to online retail. Home Depot offers equipment rentals, whereas REI rents outdoor gear. Brick and mortar stores can sell access to goods to drive incremental traffic, increase basket ring, or reach new shopper segments.
Translating shared access into more business. Rent The Runway leverages customer style profiles, viewing and purchase history to learn more about shoppers’ tastes and behaviors. Retailers and manufacturers seeking to sell access should consider ways to implement adaptive learning technology in combination with loyalty programs that can help translate access into advocacy, repeat traffic, or potentially full purchase. It’s all about creating a loop effect along the path to purchase.
For example, after renting my dress will I have an opportunity to purchase it at full price after my “trial” experience? Will I receive suggestions for similar, more affordable styles through other manufacturers or retailers—or suggestions for future occasions? Will I be prompted to recommend the dress or service to others or rewarded for repeat business?
The combination of evolving technology and the shift in consumer trends make this a ripe opportunity to start selling shared access at retail. Brands and retailers should identify the shopper, the most relevant cultural trends, and develop a shopping journey that incents shoppers to return for more access or full purchase. The key is to empower shoppers to decide how they want to define ownership—through shared access or full purchase.