Back in the 1970s, at a time of rampant inflation, high unemployment and the four-day week, jumble sales were a regular occurrence, found at town and village halls and community centres around the country. Junk shops and second-hand stores were also found, but not in the quantity of high street charity shops we see today.
Through the 1990s and right up to the present day, many people’s weekends involve a trip to the car boot sale. By the mid-90s, a website called eBay was being founded, before anyone could have realised that it would go on to become the worlds’ biggest online marketplace, where people could sell new and used goods to a national or even international audience.
In those days, we’d call buying other people’s old stuff ‘buying second-hand’. These days, it’s known as recommerce.
Recommerce platforms allow sellers to connect with buyers seeking everything from barely worn dresses to retro electronics in minutes. And with curated vintage shops and consignment stores also expanding their e-commerce operations, shopping pre-owned is no longer the antiquated or stigmatised experience it once was.
Recommerce is great for consumers
Not only is the idea of recycling old clothes and products one that makes sense for the planet, but it also gives people the opportunity to indulge in what they wouldn’t be able to otherwise afford. Sites like Vestiaire Collective and Poshmark are sites where people can purchase authenticated used designer goods at a fraction of the price of buying new.
Sites like Depop and Vinted meanwhile allow sellers to sell a broader range of preloved goods (similar to eBay). The quest for recommerce is particularly strong amongst millennials – eBay’s Recommerce Report, shows that 38% of Gen Z respondents said that the economy had caused an increase in their eBay activity, while 58% of Gen Z sellers said they sell on eBay to make extra cash.(1)
In the same survey, over 90% cited sustainability as being a crucial part of why they resell, and said reducing waste was almost as important. (1)
Recommerce is great for the planet
The rise of recommerce is an encouraging trend that benefits both consumers and the environment. As we’ve explored in previous articles, today’s consumers care about the environment and about sustainability more than ever. This shift towards reuse over rampant consumption is one that should be applauded.
Recommerce offers clear advantages for the environment. By giving existing products a second life through resale, recommerce reduces waste and cuts down on the resources required to manufacture new items. With fast fashion and tech brands churning out products at breakneck speeds, the amount of clothing, electronics, and other consumer goods being tossed in landfills has skyrocketed. Recommerce provides an eco-friendly alternative to this wastefulness. Rather than constantly buying new, consumers can choose to buy used, to give perfectly functional products a new lease of life.
Reduction in fast fashion
These are also commercial opportunities for people buying preloved goods and repurposing them. This can range from classes where people take preloved clothing and are given ideas on how to fashion them into something new, or via online communities which are focused on upcycling and profiting from reviving preloved goods.
Of course, in addition to being green, many consumers are drawn to recommerce for the unbeatable value it offers. For many, it’s a purely economic decision, based on the current financial climate. When the choice is poor quality fast fashion, or better-made and more sustainable goods that may potentially be resold after use, the choice seems fairly straightforward.
Last year, Vinted’s sales increased by a remarkable 65 percent from $159 million to $263 million as cash-strapped consumers were keen to create extra funds by selling unwanted clothing and buying second-hand in order to save money.(2)
Recommerce: Bad news for retailers?
You’d think so, but smart retailers have got ahead of the game already.
Shops such as M&S and John Lewis have schemes where people can donate their used clothes that they bought from that store and receive credit to spend in store. (The collected goods are donated to charity.) The smartly named ReSellfridges has an online platform for past purchases to be sold in exchange for store credit (3). Ikea has launched a 'Buy Back' programme, which allows customers to sell back lightly used Ikea furniture to be resold in its stores.(4) Even tech giant Amazon now facilitates refurbished and used goods. This demonstrates that recommerce is not a passing fad but a viable business model.
A global report conducted by Thredup with analysis by GlobalData concluded that the resale market is growing at a rate 11 times faster than traditional retail. It should be worth $84 billion by 2030, with the value of fast fashion predicted to be about $40 billion.(3)
The growth of recommerce presents several potential profit opportunities for businesses, including generating additional income by selling refurbished or used products, improving customer loyalty and retention through trade-in and buy-back programmes, boosting brand reputation and sales by aligning with eco-conscious values, and potentially saving on manufacturing costs, if demand for new products decreases.
While recommerce presents some appealing opportunities, businesses cannot ignore the very real risks it poses to profitability. A major concern is revenue cannibalisation – sales of lower-priced used goods could simply cut into full-price sales of new products, lowering overall revenues. Another factor is increased logistical costs associated with collecting, refurbishing and reselling used inventory, which requires substantial investment in infrastructure and staffing. Profit margins on refurbished goods are also typically lower, so refurbished sales could compress margins and reduce overall profitability. Mitigating these risks requires careful planning and execution when integrating recommerce into the core business model.
Critics of recommerce may argue that it encourages excess consumption – after all, you're still acquiring more stuff, even if it's used. This is a valid concern, however, recommerce is fundamentally different from traditional retail in that it gives unwanted items a new home rather than sending them straight to landfill. A healthy recommerce ecosystem reduces demand for new goods. And for sellers, recommerce provides a way to declutter and earn cash simultaneously.
Like it or not, it’s a trend that’s here to stay and retailers need to get with the (resale) programme if they don’t want to miss out.