Shoppers are buying from resale retailers more than ever. Here's why

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Secondhand retail companies are finding success with shoppers focused on sustainability and hard-to-find items, while also avoiding the supply chain pressures being felt by traditional retailers.  

Big box retailers like Walmart and Target have focused on keeping prices down, and have absorbed the increasing costs in shipping, labor, and materials for shoppers. Other retailers, like Macy's and Kohl's, have raised prices to keep up with the uptick in costs.    

But resale companies The RealReal and ThredUp are playing up their secondhand supply chains, inventory levels, and pricing.   

“While many retailers have been forced to raise prices due to inflation or supply chain pressure, we do not have the same level of exposure,” James Reinhart, CEO of ThredUp, said on the company's recent third quarter earnings call.  

ThredUp's business is entirely sourced domestically from its users, according to Reinhart, and has no reliance on direct manufacturing for inventory.  

“We have chosen to strategically lower prices in order to engage as many customers as possible during a time when consumers are feeling price pressure in many other parts of their life,” he added.  

ThredUp's prices averaged 15% lower in the third quarter compared to the same period last year. Reinhart said the company will continue to keep prices down through ThredUp's domestic supply system.  

The company reported record quarterly revenue of $63.3 million in its third quarter, up 35% year-over-year. It also had record numbers of active buyers at 1.4 million and a record number of orders at 1.3 million, growing 14% and 28%, respectively, year-over-year.  

Julie Wainwright, founder and CEO of the RealReal, said after its third quarter earnings that the company's inventory has exceeded pre-Covid levels, adding “we believe we are well-positioned from a supply perspective as we enter the holiday season.”

She also noted that the RealReal is shielded from the inflationary impacts other businesses are seeing.  

The RealReal reported total revenue of $119 million in its third quarter, an increase of 53% compared to last year. There were 757,000 orders in the third quarter, up 38% year-over-year.

“Adjacent to the issue of reselling and all of the empty storefronts, I feel very strongly that retail is just changing,” said Tim Ceci, founder and president of Tim Ceci Retail Consulting.  

Still, investors aren't entirely sold on the outlook for these companies, even amid the supply chain issues around the globe for retailers. ThredUp's stock has been volatile since its initial IPO pop this year, and after its recent earnings resulted in a one-day bounce, shares continued on a declining trajectory. RealReal received a boost from its recent earnings, but remains down near-25% this year.

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But the broader consumer trends supporting the secondhand market do continue to serve as a secular tailwind for the niche.

New habits pushing shoppers towards resellers  

In total, by 2023, the resale market is expected to reach $51 billion, according to a recent report from ThredUp.

The resale industry is growing 11 times faster than traditional retail, according to Carolyn Thomas, president and CEO of Aravenda, a consignment software company. This trend is likely linked to two factors: supply chain logistics and the consumer's shift to a sustainable mindset.  

It's also being aided by younger consumers like Edwin Elliott, a 25-year-old Miami resident, who is scoping out old-school pieces online to complete trendy outfits. They can be difficult to recreate “without real vintage pieces,” Elliott said. “And there are so many resale shops online, so it has made it easier to buy vintage items.”  

“Before you would have to go thrifting,” said Elliott, “you would have to sort through piles of stuff and hope that you find something worth buying.”  

Thrifting, the antiquated term for resale, is all about the shopper having choices. And the web has provided that, says Ceci. “Gen Z is running after secondhand and reselling,” he said.  

Etsy, the online business known for its handmade and vintage item marketplace, acquired the resale app Depop in July for $1.62 billion, showing “significant potential to further scale,” according to Etsy CEO Josh Silverman in a statement announcing the deal. 

Etsy's stock has outperformed the marker this year. 

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Depop, or the “resale home for Gen Z consumers” as Silverman described the marketplace, hosts 30 million users across 150 countries. Through its core messaging around environmental and ethical shopping, the resale brand is a huge attraction to the younger consumer.  

“It's about having choices,” Ceci said. And for the younger shopper who is looking for retro styles and a sustainable way to shop, “it is a viable way to have an exchange with a retailer or a brand,” he added.  

Growing focus on new, unused items  

The sustainability factor is an “added perk” for Elliott, but the main reason he shops resale is for the exclusiveness and online convenience.  

These resale sites are not just providing a platform for sellers to sell off old goods. 'New with tags' or 'new in box' items are increasingly being sold through resale platforms, according to Thomas.

StockX, which launched in 2016 as the “Stock Market of sneakers,” the resale site has evolved to become a hub for users to buy and sell new high-ticket and hard-to-find items from clothing, handbags, and electronics. In April, StockX completed a new round of funding that valued it at $3.8 billion, signaling the “broad recognition and excitement” for the company in the long-term, StockX CEO Scott Cutler said in a statement.  

Through resale sites like Depop, consumers can resell limited items that may have sold out and are no longer available directly from the retailer – a common occurrence, according to Elliott, “so, it's hard not to buy off a resale site.”  

“When you pivot over and look at the RealReal, a lot of that relationship with the customer is on luxury or higher-end goods,” Ceci said.  

Traditional retailers moving into resale  

Several traditional retailers are finding ways to move into the reselling space as that business booms.  

Lululemon announced in April it would be launching its own resale program. The brand partnered with Trove, a business that helps companies build out resale shops, and began piloting its 'Like New' program in California and Texas in May.   

ThredUp has struck several partnerships, including a deal with Macy's in August to offer secondhand apparel at 40 stores. J.C. Penney works with ThredUp to offer secondhand women's clothing and handbags at 30 stores.  

Through its “resale as a service” platform, ThredUp is working with several retailers to help them provide secondhand products to customers, including Walmart, Everlane, Farfetch, Gap, Adidas, and Crocs.  

Even Ikea said it would get into reselling, with the Scandinavian ready-to-assemble furniture store announcing this month it would offer a “buy back & resell” program in 33 of its U.S. stores through December 5, after piloting the service at a Philadelphia store.  

“I am optimistic amid a lot of evolution that is going on,” Ceci said. “And certainly, the resale market is definitely here to stay.”  

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