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Nordstrom Seizes on Clothing Rental Fever With Rent the Runway Tie-Up

The fast-growing clothing rental market’s allure has proven irresistible to Nordstrom.

On Friday, the Seattle-based department store company said it’s deepening its relationship with fashion subscription pioneer Rent the Runway, enchanted perhaps by the runway of potential growth ahead for the still-emerging on-demand clothing sector. Nordstrom will feature RTR drop-off boxes in 29 of its stores, up from five previously.

Jamie Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom stores, said the company has received “great feedback” from customers who appreciate the convenience of being able to return their RTR garment loans at Nordstrom locations throughout Los Angeles.

“The expansion of our partnership helps us better serve our customers through innovation around products and experiences,” he explained, adding that stores in Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco will begin accepting RTR returns starting Nov. 18.

Beyond hosting drop-off points inside its stores, the retailer also will “extend the lifecycle of Nordstrom products” by making select merchandise available for rental on RTR as a platform partner, joining brands spanning Opening Ceremony and Pyer Moss to Maison Margiela and Narciso Rodriguez. And the two companies together are “studying opportunities” to develop exclusive Nordstrom merchandise available only through RTR, which RSR Research managing partner Paula Rosenblum describes as “intriguing.”

Closely aligning with RTR could help Nordstrom to “eliminate a markdown, might help them find a disposition for returns (don’t forget, over 20 percent of their sales are now consummated online) and ultimately creates another lane to create an aspirational Nordstrom shopper,” she explained, noting her skepticism at other legacy tie-ups with digital-first firms—like Kohl’s accepting Amazon returns in store and ThredUp shop-in-shops springing up at Macy’s and J.C. Penney locations—aimed at driving foot traffic.

RTR co-founder and CEO Jenn Hyman says the “massive consumer behavior shift” in recent years means members now rely on the company’s services as “a near daily utility.” Indeed, Cosmopolitan publishing director Nancy Berger confirms the prevalent use of access-based clothing services among professional city-dwelling millennial women, rotating designer styles through their closets without paying premium prices.

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“As our business has grown, we’ve seen unparalleled demand for physical experiences including the convenience of Drop-Off Boxes,” Hyman added.

RTR’s strong growth has not come without its costs, however. Over the summer, the company temporarily ceased accepting new customers amid what appeared to be a software and supply chain meltdown that sent member shipments off-kilter and dished up a torrent of ticked-off customer tweets.

Still, the rental innovator has emerged from the brouhaha able to move forward with a Diane von Furstenberg x Rockets of Awesome mother-daughter holiday capsule, in addition to the Nordstrom partnership.

News of Nordstrom’s incursion into the resale market comes on the heels of major players across the fashion landscape making similar moves of their own. Ralph Lauren broadcast its intentions to launch new initiatives in resale, rental and subscriptions, while H&M is trialing a rental offering that highlights clothing in its sustainability-minded Conscious Collection.

And there’s always the chance that Nordstrom has been inspired by the new vision set forth by clothing rental company Le Tote’s $100 million acquisition of the once-proud department store retailer Lord&Taylor. When the companies are integrated, they’ll share a common back-end platform that can seamlessly shift merchandise from retail to rental to maximize margins and value—which sounds strikingly similar to Nordstrom’s RTR plan.

On Monday, Nordstrom stores in the following markets will feature RTR drop-off boxes: Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Nashville, Orange County, Portland, Ore., San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Scottsdale and Seattle.