Online to Offline: How Opening Retail Stores Helped Rent The Runway Spike Site Traffic

Online and offline properties have a symbiotic relationship, the e-tailer discovered after adding four real-world locations.

Rent The Runway retail store goes from Online to Offline

Online fashion-for-lease company Rent The Runway made its “Online to Offline” move in early 2015, opening four physical stores in major U.S. cities to enable fashionistas to view and borrow its for-loan designer apparel in person.

The retail expansion several purposes: It exposed the brand to new consumers in metropolitan areas, provided a physical touch point for existing digital customers, and enabled Rent The Runway to offer in-store extras like personal styling.

But while much has been made lately of the fact that brick-and-mortar stores still have significant value — over 90 percent of purchases are made there — a recent discovery could mark them as an even better investment: According to a report from L2, physical stores actually boost e-tailer’s online profits as well.

This is exactly what happened to Rent The Runway over the past year. Physical and digital purchasing have a symbiotic relationship, ultimately benefitting the other — and just as digital tactics can drive foot traffic to actual stores, building awareness around physical locations can boost sales online.

Online Surge

After opening its four brick and mortar locations, Rent The Runway’s organic search traffic surged: Uniques increased by over 100k in one year.

“Physical stores are far from extinction,” L2’s Elisabeth Rosen posits in a recap of the company’s Intelligence Report: Death of Pureplay Retail. “In fact, they confer so many advantages — from increased site traffic to financial returns — that e-tailers without brick-and-mortar stores might be the ones in danger.”

Noted. But a major reason for this type of spike is the increased ease of discovery created by physical retail locations; essentially, as consumers are more often exposed to a brand in the real world, even if just while walking by on the street, they are more likely to search for it online at their convenience.

Thus, Rent The Runway’s traffic spike is largely attributable to how well the brand used digital means — and particularly location data — to drive awareness around the opening of the retail stores.

The Location Play

Rent The Runway has relied heavily on e-mail marketing throughout its life — which is actually Millennials’ preferred way to communicate with brands by a margin of 41 percent — but with the promotion of the new stores, the brand added a location-mapping element.

Customers in or near the cities received emails touting the new openings, with a click-to-map option to guide them to the nearest store. Users on the go could access the email on mobile, click for directions, and get to the physical location relatively seamlessly.

This online activity led to many in-store rentals, but plenty of recipients who viewed the email opted to search the brand online to order at their convenience, even if they did visit the store to check out its styling options or other services.

This diversified success simply drives home to point that retailers have learned in the “omnichannel” era, even as that buzzword has fallen out of favor: The physical and digital worlds are irreversibly integrated, and just as a physical business would no longer try to exist without an online presence, e-tailers of all varieties are facing the reality that physical stores strengthen their value proposition.

And though the vast majority of Rent The Runway’s orders still come through desktop and mobile, “we’ve just seen that physical retail works for us,” JenniferHyman, Rent The Runway’s co-founder and CEO, told Huffington Post. “When you see some of this inventory in person, it’s on a whole other level.”

In other words, it’s not an either/or question anymore. Physical and digital are better together as retailers go from online to offline.

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.