The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Malvika Gupta, CEO and co-founder of Borrowed, an e-commerce platform for rentable items in the United States. Gupta spoke about the challenges of adapting existing e-commerce tools for rental businesses.
This interview has been edited.
Morgan Stevens: What was your motivation for starting Borrowed?
Malvika Gupta: Our motivation for starting Borrowed is simple: we want to make rentals easier for items like apparel, appliances, and electronics. My co-founder, Michelle, started her own dress rental business, Dalliance Bespoke, a few years ago and has grown that into a six-figure rental business. Her journey shows the breadth of challenges faced by both consumers and businesses when it comes to rentals. In short, many rental businesses don’t have the software tools to scale, and consumers don’t have a simple option to browse and book rentals.
Stevens: How does your platform leverage data and automated tools to help businesses that want to offer rentals?
Gupta: One of the main challenges that small rental businesses have today is automating the rental process critical to running a rental business. This includes everything from managing inventory and bookings to marketing and payments. Because there isn’t an existing platform for this, to provide rentals, a business has to either custom develop their own set of tools or use e-commerce tools that are just not well-designed for rentals. With either of these options, these businesses then also lose out on important data that could help them grow their business. Even in our beta product version, we’ve put all these tools and data in one platform to help make rentals easier to offer.
Stevens: What are the biggest challenges with operating an e-commerce platform for rentals instead of purchases?
Gupta: There is a ton of great e-commerce infrastructure that exists for buying and selling things, but this infrastructure often doesn’t work for rentals. We’re having to reimagine how the fundamentals of any e-commerce business, like payments, bookings, inventory, and return logistics, can be built into a single platform. Additionally, even though we aren’t holding inventory or managing fulfillment ourselves in the short term, we want to make sure our brands have the support that they need in operating their rental business from a logistics standpoint, which can be challenging.
Stevens: How has the market for rentals shifted with the pandemic?
Gupta: The pandemic has been tough on some well-established rental businesses, especially since many large rental businesses today target special occasions like weddings and parties. However, like the broader retail market, the pandemic has also sprouted hundreds of new online rental businesses for a broader set of categories. Consumers are opting for smaller events, but are willing to spend more on decor, apparel, and electronics to make these experiences special.
Stevens: How do you see e-commerce changing over the next 5 years?
Gupta: There are a couple of really interesting trends in motion for e-commerce. Consumers are increasingly sustainability conscious in their buying decisions, which means a higher appetite for rentals in several categories. Marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy are continuing to drive the majority of e-commerce growth as customers look for simplified online shopping experiences. And finally, the growth of micro-fulfillment locations, or small-scale warehouses in urban locations, is going to make it even faster to get the items you buy or rent online. It’s been a fascinating last few years in the e-commerce space, so it should be exciting to see what’s next.