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Is 2023 the Year Resale Goes Mainstream — or Is It Already There?

As conscious consumerism continues to gain steam, it’s not surprising that alternative retail models — such as resale — are rising in popularity. Particularly when it comes to fashion.

Consider a few recent studies:

  • A report by WD Partners found that 92% of survey respondents said they shop for, buy, sell or trade secondhand items at least once a year. Additionally, nearly half said they’d be “more likely” to go to a big-box store and 40% to a department store if they sold used items.
  • A report by consignment company ThredUp found that the global secondhand apparel market will grow 3x faster than the global apparel market overall. The U.S. secondhand market alone is expected to more than double by 2026, reaching $82 billion.
  • Coresight Research findings also conclude an upward demand for fashion resale, noting that in addition to consumers’ increasing awareness of sustainability, interest in pre-owned luxury items is a major draw.

Whether a consumer’s motivation for buying secondhand is to save money, to be a better steward for the environment, to purchase luxury items that may not be accessible otherwise, or some combination of the three, the result is the same — secondhand is becoming a mainstream part of the fashion world.

Or, at least, consumers have made it clear that they want resale to take its rightful place in the retail ecosystem. The question is, how ready are retailers?

Resale: Not Without Operational Hurdles

The 2022 ThredUp report found that nearly three in four (74%) retail execs say they already offer — or are open to offering — secondhand apparel to their customers, up 14 percentage points from 2020. However, being open to offering and actually offering are very different realities.

While some of Aptos’ clients are far down the path in incorporating resale into their business models, just as many of our clients are still evaluating operational, administrative and financial considerations, particularly around “Where, What, Who and Why?”

  • The Where – Are secondhand products sold online? In stores? Both?
  • The What – Is resale an option for all goods, or only certain categories?
  • The Who – Is there a new department that needs to be created to handle the intake, the refurbishing and the sale of these items? Or is it better to outsource to a third party?
  • The Why – How do we measure success? Are the anticipated improvements in customer satisfaction and sustainability significant enough compared to the expense of authenticating, refurbishing and reselling the secondhand merchandise?

Clearly, there’s a lot for retailers to think about as they evaluate what makes the most sense for their business, products and customers, but they better evaluate fast.

The Resale Race Is On

From some of the world’s top fast fashion retailers, like Zara and Shein, to preeminent luxury leaders, like Kering, Gucci and Coach, it is rare these days that a month goes by without a new major retail brand announcing its foray into the resale space.

Zara shoppers, for example, can book repairs and donate unwanted items as the chain seeks to cut its carbon footprint. Zara has even taken a realistic view as to the initiative’s profitability (or lack thereof).

“At this stage, this platform is exclusively conceived as a tool to help customers extend the lifetime of their clothing and take a more circular approach,” Paula Ampuero, the head of sustainability at Zara said, referencing that its pre-owned service is not expected to be profitable initially.

On the luxury end of the spectrum, Coach has shown its commitment to resale and circularity with its (Re)Loved program. The website states: “Did you know that more than 85 percent of unwanted clothes and bags end up in landfills? We’re working to change that, and we couldn’t do it without you.”

Coach offers to recycle or reimagine eligible bags in exchange for providing the bag donor a credit. “You’re helping us keep bags out of landfills and to reduce our impact on the environment.”

Zara and Coach are just two examples of the growing number of fashion brands that are offering their customers greener alternatives via recycling and reselling; not surprisingly, these brands are sending a powerful message to the market (and to their competitors) in doing so.

Viable revenue stream or not, resale may be a requisite for relevancy

While the profitability of alternative retail models like resale can be challenging, an increasing percentage of consumers want to do business with retailers that care about the world we live in. Retailers are looking for ways to meet that demand. Therefore, more and more retailers are entering the resale arena.

If industry predictions are anything to go on, resale will be one of the fastest-growing markets for the foreseeable future. Retailers are going to need to decide whether this eco-friendly bus is one they’re going to get on — and if so, tackle the operational complexity head-on to make it a sustainable success.