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Why can’t online rental business be managed with standard ecommerce tools?

By Christian Wilkens 

Online business are using standard Ecommerce tools to manage all sorts of retail and rental operations. Rental business owners find that these tools are not well suited for their needs. In fact, many customers who contact us, have problems with limitations of their current software for their rental business. 

Discover the key reasons why online rentals can’t be managed with standard ecommerce tools. By understanding the challenges faced by rental business owners, we can develop better solutions that meet their needs. But before that happens, we need to understand the consumer perspective in buying vs renting. 




When it comes to buying vs renting, what’s the consumer perspective?

Focusing on buying vs renting, the consumer perspective is largely based on their individual needs and preferences. Rental customers tend to focus less on the price  and more on the convenience and location. The product or service offerings needs to tailored to their specific rental needs. At this stage, customer reviews, ratings and recommendations from previous customers can provide valuable insight for those making purchase decisions. 

Customers will, in a buying situation, research different brands and models based on features they’re looking for.  Rental customers may rather look into companies that offer specific types of equipment or services in their area. During this research phase customer testimonials become even more important. People want to get value out of what they’re spending money on – whether it’s buying or renting something.

Finally after using a rented product/service instead of bought, customer feedback provides valuable insight so that companies can improve services in order to better meet consumer needs in the future.

From a shop perspective, what are the consequences of using traditionally ecommerce software for rental operations?

The most significant differences in ecommerce, lie in how rental and online retail shops manage their operation behind the scenes. In many cases, some companies have dropped out of online bookings completely because it causes too much trouble for the merchant. Either it is the software in use that doesn’t bend into the tasks that renting out requires or the back-office operation isn’t planned to support both walk-in and online customers

Modern consumers prefer booking their rental equipment or subscriptions online through tailored rental ecommerce. Companies therefore risk losing sales to their competitors that offer online booking as an option. Rental software with specific back-office admin management tools, will make the life of the rental merchant significantly easier. It wil help them accommodate the new generation of rental users. 

What are some of the challenges that come with returning products or dealing with maintenance times for rentals?

The renting process introduces a first significant difference from retail operations. The equipment needs to be returned once the rental time is agreed to end. The two-way movement of the equipment adds an extra layer of complexity to the inventory management and scheduling, requiring custom solutions which most software designed for retail operations are not able to cope with.

With a fleet of relatively small size, rental software can have a tremendous effect in smoothing up the process by automatically calculating availability. It will do so based on all rental start and returns times as well as maintaining equipment unavailabilities through preventive maintenance routines. The savings in terms of employee work-hours can be quite substantial, as manually managing all these variables can be extremely time-consuming compared to having it done in a few automated clicks with a competent software system.

Rentals can be tied to a specific time and date – how does this affect consumers and businesses alike?

The main difference is that rentals are much more tied to a specific point of time than buying. Buying a bike for a single Sunday outing, would not make sense, when they could just rent one. The rental shop needs to be aware of the real-time availability of its equipment in order to avoid double bookings and provide customers with accurate knowledge about what is available or unavailable.

A common solution for this is taking booking requests manually via an online form, direct email, or phone. Such manual processes is very time consuming and do not provide immediate results. The use of rental software that can automatically calculate availability and block bookings instantly when stock is limited on certain dates can be a huge advantage both to the employees and customers alike; it provides faster customer service while smoothly managing reservations at the shop.  Additionally, showing stock limitations on the website creates a matter of urgency for customers which increases conversions at checkout.

Are there any benefits to having the same inventory for online and walk-in rentals?

Rental companies have their inventory storages together with their store locations because the actual rental ties to a specific place. Ski shops are located where there are mountains, surf shops where there are waves, and so on. Retail companies tend to have separate inventory storage for ecommerce and storefront. Main reason is that the lease of retail space is significantly more expensive than a lease of a storage building. Thus, using any square meters of the retail space as storage would be bad usage of space -and money. 

What does it mean from the rental shop’s perspective? From an operational perspective, it is also simpler to have separate inventories for online and offline sales. Sometimes is not possible for rental shops due to the earlier mentioned bond with a specific location. To support the needs of both online and offline sales served by a single inventory, you need software help – or more hours in your day. Rental business with both online and walk-in customers needs a rental software that calculates inventory for both groups.  

Would it be beneficial to have the same pick-up location for online and walk-in customers, or would that cause confusion/frustration?

Shopping online goes hand in hand with home delivery or nearest pick-up point. In-store pick-ups in the rental business are more common and a small share of online bookings are home delivered  When considering what this means from a rental shop’s perspective, shops with high volume of both online and walk-in customers should develop their in-store pick-up process that takes into account certain important aspects such as collecting necessary information in advance – like ensuring skis have DIN settings adjusted as per customer needs -, directing walk-in customers to check-in and online customers to the equipment pick-up to avoid unnecessary queuing, preparing the equipment in advance by marking it properly and instructing on start, usage, and return. Self service stations with digital keys for rental equipment enables customers to collect pre-prepared rentals. 

Rental businesses have specific requirements when it comes to the type of payment technology they use.

When it comes to renting equipment, payments require a more complex technology. A secure payment gateway is necessary to store the customer’s credit card token and issue refunds or after charges. Customers must also be able to prepay for their rental, which can include an additional deposit amount so that the rental business can ensure that in case of any damage or loss, they will have enough funds to cover the cost of repair or replacement. Rental companies offer customers an option to pre-authorize a certain amount on their credit card. This covers the estimated value of the rented items plus any fees for insurance and late returns. The rental company will then easily draw from the available funds if needed. Security is also a major concern when it comes to storing customer’s data. Make all transactions safe and secure with encryption and other advanced security technologies.


There are a lot of things to take into account from both the shop perspective and the consumer perspective. Rental software have some major advantages over traditional purchasing. Being able to more easily keep up with inventory in regards to walk-in customers and online bookings, use time and date for specific products, utilize product pick up places and delivery and very importantly, offer specific payment requirements wil make your rental business run smoothly.

What are you going to do now?

When you are ready… here are 4 ways we can help you expand your rental business! 
  1. Do you want to grow your business today? Try Sharefox rental system for free – or book a demo and get a personal expert to analyze your company’s situation, come up with solutions on how you can streamline your methods and create a more profitable company.
  2. To learn more about the Sharefox rental system, read about trends and news for free, visit our blog or visit our resources section in the main menu. Here you can download guides and e-books that we also share with our customers.
  3. If you want to work with the circular economy and Saas and want to be part of the Sharefox team or find out why we are one of the fastest growing rental platforms in the rental industry, see our job postings here.
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