Offering Online Rentals - Which Is Your Best Option?

When you’re ready to take your rental business online (for both bookings and order management), you have a few options that we will cover below.  Each option has pros & cons, and RentMy serves clients who use each option.  Let’s dig in to help you find the best option for you.

Option 1: Custom-Built Rental eCommerce Website

This option will cost more than the other options, but it does offer the ultimate in design control.  Whether you are comfortable building your own website or you hire a developer, you have the liberty to make every single aspect of your new rental website match your vision. 

Keep in mind that to offer “true” online rentals (instead of a simple contact form), you will need to account for features like:

  • availability checking (to ensure your Customers don’t overbook your items),
  • A rock-solid pricing engine (for things like charging more or less on particular days of the week or extending pricing for a multi-day rental). 
  • a secure checkout experience that allows Customers to review their order, edit quantity/dates as needed and ultimately pay for the booking, and
  • An automated receipting and reminder engine (to prevent forgotten rentals and/or late returns).

Developing these features are doable, but if you go the Custom route, you will have a serve as chief project manager and writer of business requirements documents to provide explicit instructions to your development team. 

Despite the cost, this may be the best option for large-scale Enterprise clients who have such unique requirements that there is no other viable option than a “ground up” website build.  In our experience, this type of initiative will take about 6 months from project kickoff to completion (allowing time on the front end to document all of your requirements and time on the backend for quality assurance testing).  So, conservatively about 9 months from the moment you decide to go this route.  Of course, like any long-term project, you will need to keep a close eye on the budget and timeline to ensure you’re not facing cost overruns or delays that would affect the launch of your business.

Option 2: Rental Management Platform

A rental management platform is generally a “Software As A Service” business in which there is a monthly or annual subscription.  These businesses (like RentMy) get paid for maintaining an end-to-end rental order management for Clients.  There are degrees to which each Platform defines “end-to-end”, but most will offer an eCommerce website builder, a security certificate (“SSL protection”), and an inventory tracker that helps to maintain product availability and pricing calculation.

There are various pricing models in the Rental Platform industry, from a flat monthly fee to a commission on every order.  There are benefits and drawbacks to each model, so you will have to decide which is more important to your business.  If you expect only a handful of small orders every month, a commission-only type of system may be your best option.  Or, if you’re already a big business (or plan to be), the commissions paid could easily exceed what a subscription-based provider would charge for the same volume of orders.

By definition, “Software As A Service” implies that it provides ongoing services to help you run your business.  Services may include:

  • Website hosting and/or a website builder
  • Product support
  • Regular product updates
  • Order confirmations and reminders
  • Security management and compliance
  • A mobile app
  • Permissions and user management
  • A point of sale system

Prices will vary based on the maturity of the product (how long the Company has been in business), the features available and the level of support offered. 

Like “traditional” eCommerce platforms do for typical retail businesses, rental management platforms offer functions that are unique and specific to running a rental business.  Examples include:

  • Deposits.  Retailers, for example, don’t charge “deposits” on product sales (why would they?), whereas deposits are a big part of some rental business policies. 
  • Loss/Damage Protection.  Retailers don’t  typically worry about charging a loss/damage protection fee, whereas some rental businesses offer optional protection that the Customer can choose to minimize charges associated with broken or lost items.
  • Automated Reminders.  Once a sale is made, the transaction is usually “final”. There’s no follow-up with the Customer (aside from surveys).  A rental business can minimize Customer calls by automating the reminders that Customers receive (preventing the “when will you drop off my rental” phone calls).

Option 3: WordPress Rental Plugin

If you already have a website that you love and you want to add a booking experience to your site, a free or low-cost WordPress (or other) plugin may suit your needs.  This is a great option if your rentals are “uncomplicated”.  In other words, if you offer just a few products, you don’t necessary care about (or expect) overbooking, and your pricing is pretty standard (price per day times the number of days of the rental), there are several options available. 

While plugins are very inexpensive, you may pay in other ways than just the cost to add the plugin to your site. 

Plugins are a short piece of code that are (usually) developed by a freelancer who wants to make a few bucks for a project they worked on over the weekend.  They can offer some pretty cool features and are relatively easy to install.

Do your homework before selecting a plugin to ensure that it:

  • Is Maintained and supported by the developer (if it was added to the plugin library 3+ years ago and there have been no recent updates, it’s likely that the freelancer lost interest and won’t be there for you if there’s a problem).  It seems like every day there are new privacy laws, disclosure laws or some other random requirement that could make your website out of legal/regulatory compliance.
  • Is trusted.  Plugins are notorious for permitting the infection by malware to an otherwise stable website.  Bad actors may publish legitimate-looking plugins with fancy graphics and all kinds of assurances, but sadly you can’t trust all claims.
  • Doesn’t conflict with other plugins you may have on your website.  This is one consideration you won’t know for sure until you install and test the plugin.  The incompatibility may be inconsequential or it may cause portions of your website to stop working as intended.

Most plugin are a “one trick pony”.  In other words, they may handle the aspect of “booking”, but rental business owners know that getting the order is only one small piece of the puzzle.  Plugins will not help you:

  • Provide a personalized order confirmation
  • Schedule and track deliveries/shipments
  • Allow for order editing that may or may not include a pricing adjustment
  • Track specific assets’ statuses or retain maintenance logs
  • Product checkout/checkin

There’s definitely a market for plugins, and there are some businesses that are perfectly happy with a simple option to simply “get the rental”.  If that describes your business, go for it!

The point of this article is to layout the options available to your business as you consider offering online rentals to your Customers.  The good news is that there are several ways to get started.  Your budget and the experience you want for your Customers and your Staff will help to guide you the option that works best for your business.

Curious How RentMy Can Help Your Rental Business? Book Your Demo!


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