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Secondhand Is Countercyclical, So Why Are Third-Party Resale Marketplaces Cutting Their Growth Forecasts?

By Samantha Dersarkissian

Secondhand Is Countercyclical, So Why Are Third-Party Resale Marketplaces Cutting Their Growth Forecasts?


Key Takeaways

  • Brand sustainability plans need to go beyond recycling to ultimately decouple growth from increases in net new production.

  • Great time for brands to enter the secondary market with a branded resale program as these options are highly relevant in this economy.

We are in a tough economic environment. Increased costs of new items make resale more attractive by comparison.  Yet third-party marketplaces such as ThredUP and The Real Real (TRR) have reduced their growth projections. Let us look at the variety of factors at play:

  1. Less discretionary income, hence less shopping dollars in play
  2. Retailers are heavy on inventory across the board
  3. Deeper discounts on new merchandise

KFYR News piece from last week highlighted increased traffic to thrift stores. Mercari shared, 62% of parents bought secondhand items for their children in the past year of which a quarter of those purchases were motivated by inflation. Similarly, WWD wrote that StockX experienced a record sales day on Black Friday this year with the marketplace seeing one trade every second. StockX stated it had roughly 10 million visitors to its website and app this weekend and customers from nearly 150 countries. That’s staggering growth.

 At the same time, Retail Wire published in third-quarter announcements, major off-pricers, TJ Maxx and Ross Stores, raised their full-year outlooks while expressing confidence in their ability to reposition their mix for an increasingly promotional environment. This confidence and guidance provide a clear data point that retailers are heavy on inventory.

 So we would expect this would be a boon for apparel resale marketplaces. However, ThredUP and TRR both reduced their outlook for the year. Why? The relative price benefits of secondhand are being overshadowed by the deep discounting given inventory positions this Holiday. While this is a near-term challenge for 3rd party marketplaces, it is an opportunity for brands to leverage secondhand as an incredibly relevant offer in the market today.

 Brands are increasingly taking advantage of secondhand opportunities. Rolex announced the launch of an official certified pre-owned program. The program is rolling out in a select set of markets and is highly dependent on official Rolex retailers. These retailers will assure the ROLEX movement of each timepiece and then deem the items Rolex Pre-Certified. Only the official Rolex network is able to provide these guarantees. The dependence on the Rolex network is both a strength and has limits. On the plus side involving jewelers and setting high standards is right for the brand and program launch. However, the dependence will limit the scale and adoption of the standard and I would expect the program to evolve over time.

 We’ve had lots of talk about economics but let’s dive into sustainability. Rachel Greenley, an M.F.A. student took a seasonal warehouse job for an online superstore and described her experience in an NYT editorial. Her job is to determine — in less than two minutes — whether a garment should be resold. The editorial goes on to highlight the incompatibility between brand sustainability efforts and the growth of fast fashion. “We support a system of throwaway clothes that didn’t deserve their trip around the world or the number of hands that touched them.” A 2018 Environmental Protection Agency report estimates 66% of discarded clothes end up in landfills each year, and another 19% are incinerated.

 A related NYT piece highlighted the opening of a Renewcell factory and half-dozen start-ups around the world aimed at commercial textile recycling. While the scale of this new facility is laudable, they are only able to accept pure cotton textile waste, and the majority of clothes are made from synthetic blends. McKinsey estimated it would cost €6 – €7 billion to handle less than a fifth of the textile waste generated in Europe alone.  And this neglects the customer change necessary to collect these items.

 While textile recycling is an essential part of a more sustainable future, it’s not a solution for our growth of production. We can’t recycle our way out of this. Credible sustainability programs must address new production growth. Growth from selling well-made items multiple times is an obvious retrofit.


Until Next Week,

Andy Ruben | Founder & Exec Chair of Trove

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