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Does ‘something rented’ count as ‘something borrowed’?

Shannon Mullen Sep 9, 2014

Does ‘something rented’ count as ‘something borrowed’?

Shannon Mullen Sep 9, 2014

Americans buy a lot of stuff on the Internet — more than $262 billion worth last year, according to the Commerce Department. These days consumers can order pretty much anything online, including what they wear on their wedding day.

Dan Stover and his wife, Megan, got married a year ago this month. In the photos, the groom and his groomsmen are sporting seersucker bow ties, yellow boutonnieres and slim gray suits. “You can see it’s quality fabric,” says Stover. “It’s not like it’s polyester or something.” 

The suits were rentals, but not from a strip mall chain store. They came in the mail a week before the wedding, from TheBlackTux.com.  

“First thing I did was rip that thing open and I tried it on,” Stover says. “I wanted to see if this was a total disaster or a home run, and the fit was perfect. For our wedding, maybe it was a little bit of a leap of faith.”

The Black Tux is a web-only retailer, so Stover couldn’t try his suit on in advance. But the site lets customers enter their body type and measurements, then runs the information through an algorithm to fine-tune the fit before shipping. Stover says the customer reviews were good, and as a busy medical fellow, he was used to buying clothes online to save time. He says he also saved his five best friends a lot of money.

“It was like $100 and change. That’s less than renting a standard tux, and far less than buying a suit.”  

Without the cost of running retail stores, web-only companies can invest more in their products and sell them for less. The Black Tux launched last year and just wrapped its first full wedding season, with inventory fully booked as much as two months in advance.  

“I think absolutely that signals a huge consumer shift,” says Andrew Blackmon, co-founder of The Black Tux. “If people are able to trust us with the tuxedo rentals for arguably the most important day of their lives, I think that shows that people are adopting e-commerce at a level that they probably weren’t in the last five years.”

The top 200 web-only retailers (excluding Amazon) racked up almost $38 billion in sales last year — up 22 percent from the year before, according to InternetRetailer.com.  

“There’s another trend that’s underlying this as well, which is our willingness, maybe even preference to rent things instead of buying them outright,” says David Bell, professor of marketing and e-commerce at the University of Pennsylvania. His case in point: Rent the Runway. The website launched for women in 2009, renting designer dresses for as little as $30. The company now has more than 5 million members and just added a monthly rental program. It has been called a “Netflix for clothes.”

“Firms have [gotten] better about giving us pre-information through better technology, better pictures, free returns and so on,” Bell says. “So I think we’ve gradually been trained to buying almost anything online.”

A new report from Business Insider shows 18- to-34-year-olds still spend more money online than any other age group, and in that demographic, 40 percent of guys and a third of women say they would “ideally buy everything online.”

Dan Stover says he’d recommend renting a wedding suit from the web to almost anyone. 

His wife, Megan, approves, too. “I think he looked quite handsome, and I thought the suits looked amazing,” she says.  

As for her wedding dress, she felt more comfortable getting it the old-fashioned way — from a store.  

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