retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Washington Post this morning has a story about how two very different apparel companies are testing a new alliance that they hope will work out for both of them.

Here's how the Post frames the story:

"When you consider their business models, it may seem like Rent The Runway and Neiman Marcus should be bitter competitors. Rent the Runway lets customers borrow designer gowns and cocktail attire — potentially negating the need for anyone to plunk down $800 to purchase such dresses at the luxury department store."

But rather than seeing their differences as negative, the companies are looking for a mutually positive approach:

"The retailers announced Wednesday that they will be adding Rent the Runway store-within-a-store concepts at some Neiman Marcus locations, starting with a San Francisco outpost that opens Friday. More such locations are slated to open in 2017. Customers will be able to rent garments from the likes of Diane von Furstenberg, Jason Wu and Marni from a roughly 3,000-square-foot space that will also feature shoes, handbags, and undergarments that are available for purchase from Neiman Marcus.

"The partnership is a gamble by both companies that they can benefit from cross-pollinating their customer bases. And it’s also one big consumer-psychology experiment: If a shopper falls in love with the Derek Lam dress she rents, will it help convince her to buy clothes from that line at Neiman in the future? If an older shopper never rented before because she didn’t like online shopping, will the physical store experience and the Neiman imprimatur make her a convert?"
KC's View:
The mutual attraction comes from some basic realities - Neiman Marcus has seen sales declines recently, and Rent The Runway seems to accept the idea that it can help build its brand with a bricks-and-mortar presence.

In some ways, I see this as being similar to Whole Foods deciding to offer Purple Carrot meal kits in one of its stores. Inspiration and innovation can be found in a lot of places, including in companies that ordinarily are identified as competition.