The Darker Side of Rent the Runway

Couple in formal wear

It starts innocently enough. You’re browsing for the perfect dress — The One, really — for your special event, when you happen upon Rent the Runway. The company touts a selection of designer dresses, any one of which you can rent for a fraction of its original cost for up to eight days. According to the website, you can select the delivery date to accommodate your event and determine if the dress is right for you, or if you need to choose an alternate.

Sounds perfect, right? You’re only wearing that dress once, after all — so it makes sense to pay less and then send it back when you’re done. But the transaction has more risk than you might think.

Sadly, shoppers have flocked to Rent the Runway’s Facebook page, written reviews, and even sought legal counsel about some of the company’s unseemly practices.

Imagine how the shopping experience might go. You pick out your special dress from Rent the Runway and schedule delivery. At that point, you check that task off your list, stop shopping and go on living your life.

That Dress You Ordered? It’s Not Coming

All’s good, right up until the day Rent the Runway tells you your dress isn’t coming. And if that happens just a few days before your event…well, too bad. Now you have two options. Hustle on over to the mall, or show up to your best friend’s wedding wearing a random sundress from the back of your closet.

Sadly, this scenario has been all too real for Rent the Runway customers. Here’s an actual email Megan received from Rent the Runway when her order of two dresses went sideways.

We are very sorry to let you know that Rust Two Minds Dress in size S  and the Riscal Gown in size SR is now unavailable […] to ship out to you in time for your event. This occurred  because it was either returned too late by the previous customer or did  not pass our quality assurance check. To confirm, you will still be  receiving the size XSR. [editor’s note: this was Megan’s backup size.]

We are afraid that we did not learn about this issue until very late in  the shipping process. To avoid delay or not sending you anything at all,  one of our stylists added a new style to your order at no additional  cost. If you don’t like what was selected for you, we would be happy to  overnight you another option for delivery on 10/05, or we can refund you  accordingly. Please reply to this email with what you decide, and we  will handle it right away.

Bad news, for sure. But what happened next was possibly more upsetting.

We Said We’d Cancel the Order, But…

Megan reviewed the alternate styles suggested by Rent the Runway and didn’t like them. She asked the stylist to cancel the order and provide the promised refund.

The cancellation was confirmed, at first. Then, Rent the Runway informed her they’d already shipped the alternate dresses. And so they would hold her refund until she returned the dresses she didn’t want.

Woman wearing formal dress

And that left Megan with nothing to wear to two weddings in one weekend, no refund, and an extra errand to run to get those dresses returned. Editor’s update: RTR did end up cancelling the shipment en route, so the post office returned it and Megan didn’t have to.

Not surprisingly, Rent the Runway does charge stiff late fees — up to $50 a day. But the customers who are inconvenienced by late returns, customers like Megan, don’t see a dime of those funds in the form of an  account credit. When orders can’t be filled, Rent the Runway only offers exchanges or refunds — and to be clear, that’s a refund for a service that was never provided.

Brock’s experience joins legions of others who have experienced similar situations. Customers who request shipping labels are instead charged exponential late fees, and sending emails and making phone calls doesn’t yield any results.

The takeaway? If you try to Rent the Runway, be sure to have a backup plan.

Have you experienced any Rent the Runway nightmare stories? Share your story!

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Tanya

Tanya is a seasoned journalist based in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Specializing in fashion, beauty, and travel, she loves to explore new places, read as much as possible, and scour the web for fabulous finds — all in the name of research, of course.