THE BLOG
06/11/2014 11:12 am ET | Updated Aug 10, 2014

Borrow, Return, Repeat

In this borrowing economy, companies attempting to be the "Netflix of the some new good or service" seems to be the new norm, especially with respect to luxury e-commerce sites. Rent the Runway (dresses), Bag Borrow or Steal (handbags), Adorn (jewelry) and Art Remba (art pieces) are just a few such companies.

The brands available for rental at these sites are able to reach a new and generally younger demographic, resulting in not only the development of greater brand awareness but also the careful fostering of a consumer's taste and penchant for a particular brand by allowing the consumer to actually experience the good or service, albeit for a limited time. Consumers on the other hand fulfill their aspirations by having access to goods previously unattainable due to a high price barrier.

It's interesting that while there is a long history of renting for infrequent occasions (for instance, tuxedos for men), the recent entrants in the luxury good space facilitate everyday luxury. Rent a dress not only to attend a wedding but for a night out with the girls. Borrow a new work bag for a few months until it's boring. Hang the art in your dining room during the holiday party season to impress the guests.

The experience of renting luxury goods for daily use caters to the consumer's self esteem. How much of borrowing luxury items is the desire to experience something aspirational vs portraying a certain image? And to whom are we portraying that image? The person who passes by us on the sidewalk? Our Facebook friends?

The accessibility of such high end products also broaches the question of how luxury makes consumers feel when they try the good... and when they return it.

"The finding that people are more satisfied with life when they own luxury products than when they only get to use them is in line with prior research that equates consumption with ownership," according to a recent study at Ghent University. With regards to luxury good rental companies, even if consumers cannot afford to purchase the goods, they seem perfectly content with renting, feeling the thrill of having something new, showing it off, then returning it. To replicate the feeling of newness and ownership, they rent again. In an era of where nearly everything is temporary, why should luxury goods be any different?

In the five years since the depth of the recession, there has been a decided shift away from material consumption. For Generation Y who supposedly values experiences over material goods, the popularity of these high end e-commerce rental sites illustrates a different view. Perhaps these companies combine the best of both worlds- material goods and an experience, the ability to use the sidewalk as a catwalk and garner likes on social media. The luxury rental sites cater to offline and online personas.

Millennials still care about material goods. They just don't want to pay full price.