Web Sites Encourage Don't Buy, Rent

Renting a tuxedo or bowling shoes isn't unusual. There are now consumer Web sites that offer Netflix-style services in which people can rent everything from movies to toys to clothing.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now you really can't rent Christmas gifts for people. But if you're looking to save money on things for yourself, more and more Web sites allow consumers to rent items at a fraction of the cost of buying them. We're talking about everything from toys to handbags to designer dresses.

We spoke to our technology commentator Mario Armstrong, whose been surfing some Web sites and came in to tell us more about them.

Hi, Mario.

MARIO ARMSTRONG: Hey, Renee. How are you?

MONTAGNE: Now, you know, I think everyone's use to renting videos through the mail, if you will. That's Netflix.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: But toys? Designer dresses?

ARMSTRONG: It's amazing. The Internet really has made an opportunity for entrepreneurs to really look at this rental economy. So RentTheRunway.com is the name of the Web site where you actually rent a dress for an evening or an occasion or a holiday event, even a wedding.

MONTAGNE: I mean, these are real, high-end dresses that presumably cost a lot. I mean, how does it work?

ARMSTRONG: And so I went online. I had my wife join me, and she was actually able to choose a designer dress that would've cost like close to $1,000, and the rental was about $75 for that rental. So the dress showed up in about two days in a nice little garment bag and everything. And actually, they sent two sizes, just in case one size really didn't fit her well for that particular designer. And then when she's done in four days, she sends the dresses back.

MONTAGNE: Now what's their safety? You give your credit card, right, so they can bill you if you never send it back or you destroy it.

ARMSTRONG: Exactly. Yeah, if you destroy it, don't send it back or it gets stolen, then you're held liable. But, you bring up the issue about spills, which can happen easily at a cocktail party or something of that nature. So you have to pay for an additional $5 worth of insurance for normal wear and tear, and that would cover you for those types of accidents.

MONTAGNE: Of course, you know, the idea of buying a dress is you've got it. So what's the charm of renting a dress? Even if you only pay 10 or 20 percent, you still have to give the dress back. It's like Cinderella.

ARMSTRONG: The allure is that you can always look fashionable. And, you know, with the idea of more people having digital cameras and Facebook pages and capturing you in those special moments, you may not want to see that same dress over and over again.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's move on to another age bracket. Tell us about this toy rental Web site.

ARMSTRONG: So we're going way down to the kids now. It's called BabyPlays.com. Instead of buying a bunch of toys for your young one that ends up outgrowing those toys, you just rent. You pay a monthly fee. You get a certain amount of toys shipped to you, and then you have those toys for a certain amount of time, and then you send them back.

MONTAGNE: But are the toys then used toys, because with kids chewing on toys and, you know, would you want to get toys on a rental basis?

ARMSTRONG: This is a great question because one of the things I was concerned about having a six-year-old, my wife was like, but what about cleanliness? So we actually ordered and received some toys. I was very impressed with the toys that they sent us. We did it like a regular customer, too, so they didn't know that I would be talking about it on air or anything like that.

They do say on their site, they claim that all of the toys go through the strictest sanitary process. They don't really define technically what that process is. So, you know, I think it's one of those things that you have to experience it yourself to kind of see if you feel comfortable with it. But for my experience, I was comfortable.

MONTAGNE: And certain kind of toys fit the bill for rentals?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, all types of toys. I mean, they had everything from little electronics to puzzles and board games for different age groups. Really, I think this is really great at the young age, that maybe up to about five or six, maybe a little bit older. But I think the sweet spot's a little bit younger.

MONTAGNE: Of course, at those ages, you could just rent the box.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: I love that. That's a whole new Internet idea. Let's go reserve a domain for that - RentTheBox.com.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: So, anything else you've found as you've surfed around?

ARMSTRONG: I did find that you can recycle your gadgets online, and pretty much anything: digital cameras, camcorders, mp3 players, old cell phones, pretty much can be recycled for cash.

MONTAGNE: And that Web site is?

ARMSTRONG: Oh, and that Web site is Gazelle.com. They send you prepaid shipping boxes, and then they will tell you - they'll give you an offer as to how much the value of those items you're sending back to them would be worth. And they could send you the check or you could actually have that money go to your favorite cause or nonprofit or community organization.

MONTAGNE: Well, Mario, we can leave it there. And I guess we've both got to rush out and buy things just before...

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: Or either that or we need to launch a new Web site. I really like that RentTheBox.com idea.

MONTAGNE: Well, OK. I'll partner with you on that one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Mario Armstrong is MORNING EDITION's regular technology commentator, and he hosts the radio show DIGITAL CAFE on Baltimore Public Radio Station WYPR.

Nice talking to you again, Mario.

ARMSTRONG: Thanks for having me in, Renee.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: