How the coronavirus is affecting clothing rental sites
Germs are always a concern when you’re borrowing clothes, but the spread of bacteria could be even more alarming during an outbreak like coronavirus, when hand sanitizer is in short supply. Amid growing consumer anxiety around the spread of COVID-19, some experts say clothing rental sites could see a decline in business.
“The No. 1 reason that people don’t like using ‘sharing’ programs is that they don’t like the idea of using other people’s stuff,” says Sucharita Kodali, VP and principal analyst at Forrester, noting that such a data point was captured long before coronavirus. She expects that such concerns will be even more pronounced now.
Some companies are reacting with updated messaging around their cleaning procedures.
On Tuesday, Rent the Runway added a question-and-answer to the FAQs section of its site that specifically asks how the company’s garments are cleaned “to prevent the spread of viruses such as COVID-19.” The answer to the query references Harvard Health and notes that “there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted from soft surfaces like fabric or carpet to humans. In addition, our cleaning agents and practices are designed to kill viruses such as the common cold and flu. While scientific information is still developing, we have no reason to believe that our processes are ineffective against COVID-19.”
According to a spokeswoman for the New York-based rental company, the addition was proactive to address any questions customers might have about cleaning processes, and not a reaction to actual customer questions. Rent the Runway has not seen a pullback in orders since the first diagnosis of a coronavirus patient in the U.S. last month.
Recent years have seen the rise of a host of rental service brands. Such companies cater to a group of consumers who are eager for new fashion but unwilling to own, for reasons that could be financial, environmental or both. In many cases, these startups are overtaking their older retail cohorts. Last year, fashion-rental startup Le Tote bought Lord & Taylor for $100 million. Urban Outfitters recently introduced its own rental program, called Nuuly. Neither Le Tote nor Nuuly immediately responded to request for comment regarding their policies and the coronavirus.