How the cloud weaves sustainability into the future of retail

Urban Outfitter’s rental company, Nuuly, shows how cloud-first also means putting sustainability first, with the flexibility and insights needed to go green.

This article originally appeared on Transform with Google Cloud

They say black never goes out of style. It’s something the team at Nuuly, URBN’s digital rental and resale division, knows very well. And it applies not only to the company’s clothing, but also to their gadgets.

“I recently had a casual conversation with a UX designer,” recalled Rebecca Sandercock, Nuuly’s strategy and insights manager, in a recent interview from the company’s sunny South Philly headquarters. “The designer mentioned that we chose dark mode internally for some interfaces because it actually saves so much on electrical output. They had the data to back that decision up, but more importantly, it’s just the kind of thing that everyone here thinks about all the time.”

Of course, almost every company these days thinks about sustainability in one way or another. What sets Nuuly apart is how fast it can act, thanks in large part to the technology platform that has enabled the entire enterprise.

“We’re kind of sustainable by nature,” said Kim Gallagher, Nuuly’s director of marketing and customer success.

While she was referring to the rental and resale business, which reduces customers’ purchases of clothing and Nuuly items are often worn by many people, Gallagher might as well have been referring to the sustainability inherent in and enabled by cloud computing.

There are the obvious and oft-cited benefits, such as how centralized data centers can run more efficiently (some have been carbon neutral since the beginning). Still, there are even more subtle but substantial benefits. In a market and climate that is changing faster and faster, sustainability requires a certain degree of agility. Such adaptability and scalability are inherent in the cloud technology that is making its way through Nuuly.

It turns out that being cloud-native also means being native to sustainability, as well as being native to growth. Since its launch in 2019, Nuuly’s net sales have increased approximately 6x in its first three fiscal years.

Cloud fits every situation

When URBN was developing Nuuly, which launched in just 10 months, it chose to build everything from scratch on Google Cloud. Despite being part of a larger organization with decades of history and expertise, the company recognized the limitations of legacy systems and, most importantly, the need to build an entirely new platform that could be fully responsive.

The company must not only respond to new fashion trends, but above all to the changing behavior of customers. And not just their changing tastes, but also shopping habits, delivery preferences, unexpected customer service requests – is this a pattern or a blemish? — and chatter on social media.

The pressure for a successful launch was high. The URBN portfolio, which also includes Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and Free People, had to keep evolving to satisfy a new generation of shopper that exists in an increasingly crowded and demanding digital market.

Thus, the responsiveness of the cloud has proven its worth in creating a financially sustainable business and an environmentally sustainable business. In fact, they go hand in hand, as Gallagher points out, “Any customer who continues to rent is no longer buying occasion-specific clothing that usually goes unworn.”

dr. Alan Rosenwinkel, director of data science at URBN, had heard from his team about a piece of clothing that has become an emblem of the power of the platform. “It was rented out 25 different times before someone loved it enough to buy it and keep it forever,” he explained. (It’s also an emblem of the power of the cloud, that they would have the data consciousness to track a single item so accurately.)

It’s a new way of shopping, powered by a new way of computing. As one writer for Business Insider hailed: Nuuly “completely cured my addiction to fast fashion.”

It also ensures a healthy business. Fiscal 2019 revenue exceeded $8 million and surpassed $24 million in 2020 — one of the few URBN segments to grow during a tough year for fashion — reaching $47 million in 2021. Subscriber base had grown to 51,000.

Continue reading this article on Transforming with Google Cloud

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