Retailers around the country are racing to add services that might keep customers coming back to their physical locations, where people are more likely to make impulse purchases - and spend more - than online. Nordstrom this week opened its first merchandise-free store, staffed with stylists, tailors, manicurists and bartenders. Apple, meanwhile, is outfitting its stores with outdoor plazas and indoor boardrooms in hopes that shoppers will linger. At DSW, executives say the idea is to create a one-stop shop where customers can buy everyday footwear, stash items that are out of season--and yes, rent shoes.
"This is something we've had a lot of customers ask us for, particularly with special-occasion shoes," said Christina Cheng, a spokeswoman for DSW. "When it comes to prom or a wedding or a special event, people are usually looking for a very specific shoe in a particular color, that matches a particular dress, that they probably won't ever wear it again."
But, Cheng added, shoe rental , which the company will begin testing in coming months, also raises a number of logistical questions: How will stores know which styles and sizes to keep on hand? How will they clean them between uses? And how do you determine the cost-per-wear of a bedazzled stiletto? Industry experts also raised concerns about the program. Sure, it may be commonplace to rent shoes at the bowling alley or skating rink, but are people willing to wear someone else's open-toed, high heels to a wedding? Some are unconvinced.
There are a number of other apparel and accessories rental models that have worked: Rent the Runway has created a $100 million business offering dresses, gowns and jewelry for short-term wear. Bag, Borrow and Steal has found similar success and millions in venture capital funding by renting out designer handbags.
The larger challenge for DSW, analysts said, is getting customers to buy and return items at its stores. Online shopping has become a particular problem for shoe retailers, which often struggle with high return rates.