Among the initiatives in DSW’s overhauled business strategy unveiled last month are plans to test shoe rental and shoe repair services, according to a company press release.
Rentals would focus on high-end shoes, according to a report from The Washington Post, a departure from the retailer’s traditional sales of new shoes. The move follows in the footsteps of Rent the Runway, which offers some 65,000 items and reportedly loaned its customers an estimated $1.35 billion worth of high-end items in 2015.
Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the retail consultancy The Luxury Institute, told the Post the move takes the sharing economy too far. "Shoes are such a personal item — you’ve got to worry about fit, style, so many things — that I don’t think it’s necessarily something people want to share with strangers."
Shoe rental is par for the course at the bowling alley, and in that context consumers have a high tolerance for the years’ worth of scuff marks and the odd sensation of wearing shoes that have been worn by many others. But it’s not so easy to picture how that would work for shoes that would be worn for more than bowling night.
Even a short-term event like a wedding involves walking in unpredictable weather and activities like dancing, not to mention the everyday way shoes stretch and bend to their wearers’ size and stride. Still, both rentals and repairs are on DSW’s lists of things to try in a new era of retail, where consumers aren’t prioritizing apparel sales and are interested in cutting down on waste.
Beyond access to apparel otherwise outside the financial limitations of many younger shoppers, Rent the Runway’s business model also complements consumers’ growing environmental concerns, breathing new life into merchandise customers would otherwise likely wear only once, at weddings and other milestone social events. Two thirds of consumers in 2015 were willing to pay more for a product if it came from a company that's committed to making a positive environmental impact, up from 50% in 2013, according to a Nielsen study.
DSW also last month announced a redesign of its stores with a new warehouse-like look that will allow 70% more merchandise to be showcased, along with new proprietary technology to allow store associates to spend more time with customers. Several electronic devices that store staff now juggle will be reduced to one simple, streamlined tablet. The footwear retailer is also revamping its loyalty program next year, leveraging its 25 million-customer database.