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Rent the Runway will use iPad minis to fuse ecommerce and in-store experiences

Online designer-dress rental service Rent the Runway will open its first bricks-and-mortar location in New York next month, using iPad minis in the dressing room as technological advances are blurring the lines between online and offline commerce and laying the groundwork for the emergence of a whole new retail environment.

Opening Sept. 3, Rent the Runway’s flagship store will be uniquely positioned as it seeks to translate its digital success into a physical service that allows for new experimentation with the in-store experience. The move comes as online shopping rapidly overtakes high-street sales, with the U.S. Department of Commerce citing a 3.4 percent quarterly pickup in ecommerce sales compared with 0.6 percent for brick-and-mortar retailers during the fourth quarter of 2013.

“We’re thrilled to be opening our first freestanding store in one of NYC’s shopping meccas,” said Jennifer Hyman, co-founder, Rent the Runway.

“Our aim is to use retail to reinvent the service and technology experience of a traditional store so that customers leave with knowledge of everything they should be renting this season.”

Capturing attention … and keeping it
Rent the Runway offers up designs from Diane von Furstenberg, Moschino, Kate Spade and more on its online platform, but as omnichannel retail becomes increasingly important to sustained success, the company is joining brands like Birchbox, Warby Parker and Kate Spade Saturday in opening physical retail stops to capture consumer attention.

Rent the Runway fitting rooms will be equipped with iPad minis to keep track of customers’ top looks in a “virtual closet” that can be available to rent at a later date.

The shop will also offer up a more personalized experience than online with stylists available by appointment and tailoring services.

In addition, Rent the Runway recently launched a new accessories service called Unlimited. The Netflix-based model allows customers to rent three accessories of their choosing at a time and send them back whenever they desire.

Rent the Runway previously experimented with pop-up locations, but having a physical space allows customers to build a more personal relationship with the brand and attain instant gratification when trying on items.

Embracing emerging tech trends
When investigating the interactions of digital natives in department stores, its apparent that these consumers are less interested in having a sales associate interrupt them as they browse on the sales floor since many times they have already done pre-shopping before coming to a store.

An in-store service that extends a form of personalized shopper support, such as picking wish list items to try on or offering personal shopper services, could well be the next wave of in-store support to go beyond what web only shopping offers.

For example, Chanel kaiser Karl Lagerfeld began using internet-connected iPads embedded into the changing room walls at his signature store in London this past March. The built-in touchscreens allow shoppers to photograph their looks and apply various Karl-inspired filters to their photos before sharing the images via Facebook, Twitter and email.

Burberry is also embracing technology with interactive mirrors that react to microchips in the clothes and show wearers product information, as well as a video of the look on the catwalk. Burberry’s Beauty Box, which opened recently in Covent Garden, was also designed to blur the physical and digital.

The fashion house has also introduced a Digital Runway Nail Bar, which offers a playful virtual experience for trying on the latest Burberry runway nail shades. By placing a Burberry nail polish onto an RFID-enabled platform, customers can choose their skin-tone and virtually experience the selected nail shade.

And at Harvey Nichols in Britain, virtual mirrors have been installed that scan customers’ faces and superimpose new looks onto them, that can then be purchased, similar to Macy’s magic fitting room function.

At the point of decision when a customer is choosing among products there are opportunities to provide specific services such as inventory visibility if a desired color is out-of-stock, or if there are tailoring services that need to be added, or if a customer wants to merge an online order with the in-stock purchase and pay on the spot.

As in-store mobile technologies become more and more prevalent, retailers should look to personalize offers to build relationships with customers.

“The key to success for any retailer is the operating model of how they engage with customers and the linking technology to other services that improve the customer experience,” said Rick Chavie, vice president of omnicommerce at hybris.

“If a retail chain can provide a new level of personalized service in the store to complement the personalization that customers are accustomed to on the Web, that service will be promoted by customers themselves.”

Final Take
Michelle is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York