Lancome & Rent the Runway

I’ve been a member of Rent the Runway for a few months now. I’ve never rented any dresses, partly because I haven’t seen anything I liked but mostly because I would rather BUY a dress for $200 and have it forever than RENT a used dress for $100 and wear it once. It just doesn’t seem like a good value, but that’s just me.

Anyway, today I got an email announcing the introduction of Rent the Runway’s “Beauty by Lancome” — “Now you can put the finishing touches on that Proenza dress with Lancome’s cult favorite mascara or their genius bronzing brush that slips into the slimmest clutch.”

This seems like a strange move for both Rent the Runway and Lancome. This is what I’m thinking:

For RtR: 

They are known for renting, allowing consumers to “try” unaffordable luxury items with relatively little risk. Now they’re selling? Exclusively Lancome? Why would RtR’s savvy shoppers want to buy from this very limited selection of makeup from RtR?

Which brings me to: beauty is not RtR’s area of expertise. Fashion, yes. Beauty, no. And while many would say that they two are close enough, I would disagree. Beauty requires a different level of personalization and service than fashion, and customers want to try it out, ask for expert advice, listen to reviews, get friends’ recommendations. In my personal (humble) opinion, I don’t think people want to buy mascara and eyeshadow as an afterthought while renting a Badgley Mischka gown. There’s a reason that department stores have separate beauty and fashion departments — often not even on the same floor.

For Lancome: 

I guess this is another way for the luxury brand to reach out to the younger consumers. Last semester, I co-wrote a paper that analyzes the digital strategy of beauty brands, focusing on L’Oreal’s brands (which includes Lancome). We observed that Lancome has been branching out to the younger demo and using social media to reinvent its image. Perhaps this is the latest endeavor?

But I still think the partnership is strange. Lancome may be cheapening its image by being associated with a luxury-for-those-who-can’t-afford-it business. It is also diluting its brand by offering a random sampling of its products in an irrelevant site — as if it’s being sold as an afterthought. If Lancome wants to reach a new demo, that’s great, but it should preserve the “luxury” aspect by keeping it exclusive and staying with channels whose primary competency is beauty. The same goes for RtR: beauty is not what you’re good at. Stick with fashion — jewelry, accessories, handbags, undergarments, that’s all great. But beauty? Leave that to the experts.

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