How Cloud Weaves Sustainability Into The Future Of Retail

Urban Outfitter’s rental business, Nuuly, shows how being cloud-first also means being sustainability-first, with the agility and insights going green requires.

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 business, know well. And it’s not just true of the company’s garments but their gadgets, too.

“I was having an offhand conversation with a UX designer recently,” Rebecca Sandercock, Nuuly’s strategy and insights manager, recalled in a recent interview from the company’s sunny, South Philly headquarters. “The designer was talking about how we had chosen dark mode for a number of interfaces internally 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 everyone is thinking about all the time here.”

Of course most every business is thinking about sustainability in some way these days. What makes Nuuly stand out is how quickly it can act, thanks in large part to the technology platform that’s made the entire enterprise possible.

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

While she meant the rental and resale business, which helps customers buy fewer clothes and sees Nuuly items worn many times by many people—Gallagher could just as well have been referring to the sustainability inherent in, and enabled by, cloud computing.

There are the obvious, and oft-cited, advantages, such as how centralized data centers can operate more efficiently (some have been carbon neutral since the beginning). Yet there are even more subtle yet substantial benefits. In a marketplace and climate that are both changing faster and faster, sustainability requires a certain amount of agility. Such adaptability and scalability are intrinsic to the cloud technology that threads its way throughout Nuuly.

It turns out that being cloud native also means being sustainability native—as well as growth native. Since its 2019 launch, Nuuly’s net sales have risen roughly 6x over the first three fiscal years.

Cloud fits any situation

When URBN was developing Nuuly—launching in just 10 months—it chose to create everything from scratch on Google Cloud. Despite being part of a larger organization with decades of history and expertise, the company recognized the limitations presented by legacy systems and, more importantly, the necessity of building a wholly new platform that could be fully responsive.

The company has to react not only to new fashion trends but, crucially, the changing behaviors of customers. And not just their evolving tastes but also shopping habits, delivery preferences, unexpected customer service requests—is this a pattern, or a stain?—and social media chatter.

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 who exists in an increasingly crowded and demanding digital marketplace.

The cloud’s responsiveness has thus proven its worth in creating a financially sustainable business as well as an environmentally sustainable one. Those even go hand in hand, as Gallagher points out: “Every customer who keeps renting is one who isn’t buying more occasion-specific clothes that go unworn most of the time.”

Dr. Alan Rosenwinkel, director of data science at URBN, had heard from his team about one garment that has become an emblem for the power of the platform. “It had been rented 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 awareness to track a single item so closely.)

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

It makes for a healthy business, too. Sales for fiscal year 2019 exceeded $8 million and surpassed $24 million in 2020—one of the few URBN segments to grow during a tough year for fashion—and reached $47 million in 2021. The subscriber base had grown to 51,000 at the end of January.

Continue reading this article at Transform with Google Cloud.