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Rent the Runway is canceling orders and paying angry customers

A Rent the Runway stylist, left, helps a customer trying on an evening gown in 2017.
A Rent the Runway stylist, left, helps a customer trying on an evening gown in 2017. The company has a few storefronts but largely ships items to its customers.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Fashion rental service Rent the Runway is refunding and giving out extra cash to disgruntled customers even as it warned that the service disruptions that have plagued the startup for weeks are likely to continue.

“We know we have broken complete customer trust by not delivering their orders on time,” Chief Executive Jennifer Hyman said in a phone interview Thursday evening.

She said Rent the Runway will issue refunds as well as give an additional $200 in cash to customers whose orders have been canceled due to the supply-chain problems. “To repair that trust, we didn’t feel it was right to offer credit to Rent the Runway,” she said.

Complaints about outfits that didn’t show up on time or never arrived have plagued the clothing subscription service over the last few weeks. Hundreds of customers have expressed their dissatisfaction with both Rent the Runway’s special event service — where customers take out designer outfits for formal occasions — and its everyday-wear business. The startup, which is valued at more than $1 billion and backed by investors such as Franklin Templeton, has blamed the installation of a new warehouse software system for the issues.

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In an email to customers early Friday, Hyman warned she can’t guarantee that orders scheduled to be received this weekend will arrive either. All event orders scheduled to be received the first week of October are canceled, and the company is not accepting any new event rental orders or new subscribers until Oct. 15. Regular subscription orders may also be delayed by one or two days until then, the email said.

The millennial generation’s embrace of renting rather than owning has spread far beyond housing and ride-sharing, and even some traditional major retailers are taking notice.

Rent the Runway’s latest troubles began Sept. 13 after it installed a new system in its New Jersey warehouse, Hyman said. The integration of the new system wreaked havoc on fulfillment, affecting the number of orders that could be shipped each day.

Ultimately, the new software should be “the most significant transformation in our company’s history,” said Hyman. It is supposed to enable the company to make items available faster, thanks to a new racking system for inventory.

Hyman said the problems affected 14% of Rent the Runway’s subscriber base and a smaller percentage of event renters. The company’s supply-chain head, Marv Cunningham — who previously worked at Target Corp. and Amazon Inc. — is stepping down after about a year in the role.

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In recent weeks, Rent the Runway’s social media pages have been inundated with complaints from customers who weren’t able to get help from customer service representatives. Since July — which was before the warehouse issue — there also have been complaints over long wait times for customer service. The company has said that it would double its customer service staff and make canceling subscriptions simpler.

The company was founded in 2009 by Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss, who now works at Walmart Inc., as a rental platform for women to get outfits for special events. It has since grown rapidly into a subscription business, with most of its customers now paying a monthly fee of $159 to rent items, including Kate Spade dresses and Oscar de la Renta earrings, for everyday use. The service has also starting renting out children’s clothing and home decor, attracting criticism that it’s expanding too quickly.


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