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  • Writer's pictureJuli Lassow

Brave New Models in Resale

The momentum for recycling consumer goods is building. But while recycling more is a great measurement for success, recycling fast is not.

A key principle of circular economics is to keep goods in service for as long as possible, then find ways to recycle, repurpose, or remanufacture the items you no longer wish to keep. The good news is that it's easier than ever to find partners who can help retailers and consumers extend their products' lives. Or find them new homes altogether.

Let’s find out more.

First, some definitions:

“Re-commerce” vs “resale:”

Re-commerce, or reverse commerce, means selling previously owned goods. Originally, the phrase referred more to upgrading technology, but it now captures the physical and virtual marketplaces where secondhand goods are sold.

And while the word “re-commerce” may be new, the idea of reselling goods is not. For years and years, people have turned to garage sales and thrift stores to find new homes for their items and make a little money to boot.

The only limitation was scale. After all, your garage sale could only get so big. And people have only so much time to stop and browse.

That’s where the next generation of resale players comes in. These innovative companies understand the vast potential of the secondhand market and have begun to unlock its value. By creating dynamic platforms for buyers, sellers, brands, and retailers, these 21st-century resellers are turbocharging the efforts to keep products in use for much longer.

The Key Resale Players

Launched in 2011, The RealReal was one of the earliest players on the scene, focused on reselling luxury apparel and accessories. In 2019, its annual revenue was nearly $100M, and there’s still room for considerable growth since the global market for personal luxury goods is tagged at a cool $300B.

Without a doubt, that number is downright massive. But let's talk about the market size for all consumer goods, which is $24T. (With a "T.") Who can be a reseller in this vast non-luxury space?

Enter thredUP. Founded two years before the RealReal, thredUP takes a wider (and more affordable) range of apparel and accessories from consumers. The items you want to sell are listed on consignment for up to 60 or 90 days, and when they're bought, you receive a payout in cash, thredUp credit, or credit from participating retailers. Even better, thredUP will recycle items that they don't accept or fail to meet their quality standards.

Now THAT’S a sound circular model. ThredUP has also begun to partner directly with brands and retailers. Take Burberry, for instance. In 2018, the company ended its practice of destroying unsold inventory at the end of a season, after an angry public discovered that Burberry incinerated over $37M in goods the previous year.

Today, the thredUP site merchandises this Burberry overstock, and this approach is a win-win for all. Brands continue to control their distribution; ThredUP continues to grow market share, and consumers gain greater access to quality goods.

What’s more, retailers are also joining forces with thredUP. Wal-Mart now takes thredUP drop bags and deliveries, and hosts over 750,000 thredUP items on its website. That means Walmart is offering more fashion brands to its customers and building a stronger circular effort.

Reselling Beyond Fashion

But what about items that aren’t apparel or accessories?

I’m pleased to report progress in reselling hard goods, too. Another company finding ways to get useable products out of landfills is Blinq. It works like this: Retailers identify returned or overstock items they can’t sell, then Blinq reviews these items and puts only the best ones up for sale.

Consumers, of course, get these goods at great prices.

And yes, returned items are a huge headache for retailers. Each year, consumers return approximately 10% of what they buy, and retailers often don’t have the capacity to remerchandise and sell them.

Blinq alone has kept nearly one million items out of landfills since 2018.

Beyond Blinq, we’re finding that sustainable shopping aligns well with outdoor companies. So it’s not surprising that REI, long-recognized for its environmentally philanthropic approach, has been a player in the resale game for decades. When you check out their online used store, you’ll find clothes and accessories for the entire family, as well as sleeping bags, lanterns, tents, and keg taps. I couldn’t agree with the Gear Patrol crew more: “innovative sustainability is requisite in the outdoor industry these days.”

It’s spreading to home furnishing and goods, too. Ikea is now creating a resale space for their products.

What More Needs to Be Done?

The theme I keep returning to—indeed, keep emphasizing—is that the momentum for reducing waste, reusing raw materials, and recycling consumer goods is building—big time.

No matter your retail business model, you can find partners who can help you—yes, you—reduce environmental harm, increase sustainability, and create more circularity.

How about finding one today?


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