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Bricks and Mortar

While online-only brands like ASOS, Boohoo and Missguided chip away at our formerly fashionable high streets, is the same true when it comes to second-hand?

Do charity shops, vintage boutiques and thrift stores suffer at the hands of online marketplaces such as eBay and Depop?

In 2015 the used textile market was worth close to €4 billion. Today, the volume of used or second-hand clothing is enormous and growing.

And increasingly, this volume isn’t just coming from more economically developed countries, but from countries around the world. For example, 60% of Chinese consumers now admit to owning more clothes than they need, with the average number of wears per item having decreased 70% between 2002-2017.

As the second-hand clothing market grows, in addition to the usual charity shops, thrift stores, and vintage boutiques, online marketplaces for second-hand clothing such as eBay and Depop are becoming more prominent.

But are these web platforms and mobile apps for second-hand clothes taking away from the traditional bricks and mortar second-hand shops?

While there is a large segment of consumers that have turned to online shopping instead of traditional high streets and shopping malls, not everyone has jumped ship to online carts even in the fast-fashion world. Given that, it seems reasonable that only a segment of second-hand shoppers would move to online marketplaces. Especially since those who shop online tend to not value the physical shopping experience as much as those who prefer to shop in physical stores [A New Textiles Economy: Resdesigning Fashion’s Future, p. 79].

And as we’re talking about second-hand shoppers, as Sumitra Gopal wrote so delightfully in her piece Falling into the Cracks: The Second-Hand Struggle earlier this month, many fashion-loving second-hand shoppers relish the experience of discovering a treasure to take home amid racks of clothes in physical stores.

That isn’t to say that second-hand shoppers don’t want to shop online. The success of eBay, Depop and other reselling platforms demonstrate that there is a segment of second-hand clothing shoppers who want to shop online. But that doesn’t mean that they only shop online, or that all second-hand shoppers are choosing to shop online.

Second-hand shopper segments vary hugely, from environmentally conscious shoppers to bargain hunters to fashion-lovers looking to stand out in unique or vintage items. The person visiting the charity shop and thrift store may well be quite different in their preferences and purchase power from the person visiting the vintage boutique. Similarly, the person who likes to scroll through Depop on their morning commute or lunchtime break may well be quite different from the person who revels in Saturday op shop trawls with their friends.

Plus, the popularity of second-hand shopping varies hugely depending on where you are.

Typically, in more developed economies consumers tend to be more hesitant to purchase second-hand clothing [Pulse of the Fashion Industry, p.61] . But even within more economically developed economies with strong socio-cultural commonalities, the popularity of second-hand clothing shopping varies.

For example, one survey [Pulse of the Fashion Industry, p.58] suggests that more than half of UK consumers have bought second-hand clothes in the last year, and a quarter would buy more second-hand clothes if choices improved. But just across the channel, research suggests that only 10% of EU consumers considered buying second-hand items in their most recent purchases.

As the 2017 landmark Global Fashion Agenda and BCG report Pulse of the Fashion Industry rightly note, there needs to be a major shift in consumer perspectives so that we can make more use of the sheer volume of second-hand clothing sitting around.

So what can we say? Do traditional charity shops, thrift stores and vintage boutiques suffer at the hands of online marketplaces such as eBay and Depop?

Given the varying attitudes to second-hand shopping, the diverse segmentation of second-and shoppers, different attitudes to online shopping vs bricks and mortar shopping, the different categories of second-hand clothing on offer, and the increasingly large volume of second-hand clothing available globally, it seems that perhaps the more marketplaces for second-hand shoppers the better.

A greater choice of second-hand retailer options, whether charity shops, thrift stores, vintage boutiques, or online platforms and apps, is better to better capture the second-hand shopping market and cater for its segmentation. Plus, online platforms and apps often have the added benefit of being able to serve second-hand shoppers across national borders, where second-hand shopping may be less popular and have less physical options for curious consumers.

While it’s certainly possible that traditional physical shops may suffer some revenue loss to online marketplaces, there are also opportunities for these bricks and mortar retailers to grow.

Physical shops could turn the growth in the second-hand and second-hand online markets into an opportunity to reinvent their brand, to embed themselves deeper into their local communities, to further specialise or curate their stock, or to maximise their distinct advantage of providing physical customer experiences.

If nothing else, the growth of online marketplaces like eBay and Depop demonstrate the increasing trend for second-hand clothing. I’d say that this alone is a cause for celebration, for all second-hand clothing retailers.


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