“The tip of the iceberg at Rent the Runway”
Rent the Runway is an iceberg of a business: when you look at the website you only see the smallest bit above the surface. Below the surface is the hugely complex array of people and systems that we use to fulfill the promise we make to our customers to deliver a Cinderella experience.
To frame the problem, imagine that you are building Netflix, only instead of shipping out DVDs, you are shipping out thousand dollar dresses. And those dresses have to get to someone in time to be worn to a big event, say, her prom night. Then they come back to us, to be inspected, cleaned, repaired, and sent off to the next Cinderella who needs them. This is the operational challenge that Rent the Runway has had to attack over the past 4 years of its existence. We describe our problem as “reverse logistics”, far from just pick pack ship, we have to think a lot about the return phase of the order and how we can quickly process things coming in to enable them to go back out again.
I will discuss about how we have gone from a system run manually via Google Docs to one that runs on a network of event-driven services that coordinate the operations of hundreds of staff shipping tens of thousands of orders a week. This is a story about marrying complex technology, logistics and data considerations to physical processes that require large numbers of people making time-sensitive decisions. There are a few interesting key points of change in the story, from manual tracking to semi-automated to redesigning the entire warehouse flow (and entire software stack) to support real time inventory adjustment and same-day processing.