Circular economy growth demands more fulfilment options

Editor’s blog: I pay you rent

In addition to allowing me to reword lyrics from a cracking Pet Shop Boys track for the title, this month’s blog permits me to be one of those people who talks smugly about the book they are reading – and quote from it in a ‘wise’ fashion.

More importantly, it’s an ideal time to reflect on UK retail’s rental revolution, which has been turbocharged in the last few weeks by some big names rolling out new or refreshed rental propositions designed with a sustainability twist.

Suits and formalwear business Moss Bros, department store chain Selfridges, and re-commerce platform musicMagpie have all introduced new rental ranges in recent weeks.

Moss Bros, which already had an established suit hire business for formal occasions, has introduced a subscription service – Moss Box – which gives consumers access to two products and unlimited swap-outs of those items for a flat fee of £65 per month.

The service will operate on US software company CaaStle’s white-labelled rental tech platform. It is supported by UK-based ACS Clothing, which runs the cleaning and fulfilment operations for Moss Bros Hire, and is a CaaStle partner.

It is a solution viewed by stakeholders as a way to encourage more circular fashion spending and to help the retailer avoid excess inventory, both of which display greener corporate thinking.

Such eco ambitions are also behind this month’s unveiling of Selfridges Rental, which is supported by Hurr Collective and includes men’s and women’s fashion, and was covered by Green Retail World on the day it launched.

And further supporting the retail rental trend is newly London Stock Exchange-listed musicMagpie’s decision to start renting out mobile phones via its website. Renting rather than owning, it says, makes monthly phone payments more affordable for consumers – but the rental and reuse aspect of it also displays greener thinking.

The UK high street used to offer many opportunities to loan products, from VHS and DVDs at the likes of Blockbuster to TVs and other electricals via Radio Rentals. As electrical items became more affordable and streaming became an alternative to physical entertainment products, the demand for these stores diminished and they disappeared.

But with fashion rental pioneers such as MyWardrobe HQ and Hirestreet gaining prominence in recent years, and growing concerns about overconsumption, an environmentally-influenced trail is being blazed for a new generation of renters. And it’s being driven online.

Look at my hopes

Now, about that book I was harping on about.

I am most of the way through John Grant’s Greener Marketing, which acts as a guide to marketers and businesses in general about how to change the world in the face of “climate and ecological emergency”.

It is full of great examples of retailers and brands adapting strategy to put environmental, social and corporate governance at the heart of what they do. It also neatly illustrates how to avoid so-called “greenwash” and maps out the need for redesign of existing corporate structures if society is to stop the planet overheating.

Pretty serious stuff, there’s no denying it.

Early on, the book discusses how ‘design for longevity’ and ‘design for leasing or service’ are two of the four fundamental pillars needed to create a circular economy. The increase in rental options across retail is an example of this more circular industry thinking in action.

“I once considered a start-up called the Prawn Shop which would pawn objects (leave your guitar & PC with us while you go travelling to release some cash) with zero interest rates provided you sign an agreement saying we can rent it out,” Grant writes, highlighting the potential for new models if product use intent and attitudes to consumerism are reshaped.

Look at my dreams

Reimagined models of retail are emerging all the time, and amid a wave of ‘purpose-driven’ companies entering the market there are several where renting out goods rather than selling is the name of the game. As well as the aforementioned organisations, peer-to-peer clothing rental platform Garmentry has now entered the fray.

At launch in 2020, Garmentry said suiting companies have been operating in menswear rental for decades, but it argued rental has yet to be revamped for Gen Z and millennial shoppers.

This is the gap in the market it wants to fill, but the Moss Box subscription service shows the traditional retail community does have the ability – and the will – to refresh rental and is happy to go head to head with the upstarts.

How this market landscape develops – and just how willing consumers are to rent rather than buy – is set to be one of the most interesting shifts in retailers’ route to market in an increasingly eco-conscious age. And it arguably covers all sectors of retail apart from consumables and intimate personal care – it makes more sense, for example, to rent many limited-use products for DIY projects, gardening, sport and exercise, and travel, as well as games and furniture for special occasions.

Tents, power tools, pressure washers, a cricket set for the park, and skiing equipment all come to mind as suitable items for lease, alongside the everyday fashion and electricals goods we’ve already discussed.

Whatever happens in this space, we’ll be sure to monitor it in detail on the pages of Green Retail World.

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Ben Sillitoe (@bsillitoe)

[Image credit: Green Retail World]

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