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Renting is the New Black with Express’ Clothing Subscription Service

Is ownership passé? Express is certainly hedging its bets.

Following the well-shod footsteps of Ann Taylor and New York & Co., the mall staple is now the third major women’s wear retailer in less than a year to allow customers to rent its clothing through a subscription service.

“The consumer who is more interested in access versus ownership is happening across many industries,” Jim Hilt, chief experience officer at Express, told CNBC. “We looked at this evolution and asked, ‘how do we participate?’”

With Express Style Trial, shoppers can borrow three items at any given time for $69.95 a month. Much like what Netflix did with DVDs in its pre-streaming days, Express will take back and dispatch clothing items with no limits to the number of exchanges. It also offers free shipping both ways (prepaid envelopes are included within each box) and free dry cleaning.

Users have to stock their virtual closets with at least eight items before a box will go out, though Express recommends “closeting” at least 20 for a seamless experience. Under a “Your Closet” page, an “At-Home” section lists garments that are either en route to, from or are already with a customer. The “On the Rack” section reveals all active items a user has placed in her queue, and the “On Hold” section saves the items she has bookmarked but has not committed to just yet. 

Orders, Hilt noted take about two days to process and another two to three for delivery, and a “super active user could have 12 different pieces…going out a month.”

The service touts fashion with “no commitments,” promising that customers can cancel at any time. If a subscriber falls in love with a piece, she can purchase it from her virtual closet at a discount.

Items on are broken down by category into dresses, tops and bottoms, as well as pieces for work and the weekend.  

Borrowing another tack from Ann Taylor and New York & Co, Express uses CaaStle technology and logistics platform to keep its subscriptions running smoothly.

Hilt said Express executives see the rental program as providing an additional channel for customer spending, rather than one that will nibble into existing sales.  

With CaaStle, Express gets a “fully managed service for us without heavy upfront costs,” Hilt said. “We are optimistic about the long-term opportunity of Express Style Trial, but expect the overall impact to be small in 2018.”