Stock markets have plummeted, stores nationwide have closed — whether temporarily or for good — and the daily news makes one narrative clear: the state of fashion retail is bleak in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Retail sales dropped by a record low of 8.7 percent in March, marking the steepest decline since the government began conducting the data nearly three decades ago.
But there’s another story as leaders in the secondhand market sing a different tune; business is reportedly booming — at least where digital capabilities can carry the load.
Like the brick-and-mortar businesses that can sustain it, resale e-commerce giants such as eBay, StockX and Depop have all adopted work-from-home practices in order to abide by “stay-at-home” and “shelter-in-place” guidelines. As users around the world spend more time online, these companies have benefited from the uptick both in terms of browsing and buying.
“Thus far, our sales volume and traffic numbers have been largely unaffected by recent events. As for sneaker prices, they are experiencing far less volatility than the stock market,” StockX said in a statement to HYPEBEAST. The company has since (somewhat to the ire of fans) added new buyer fees to its sales process. “Despite their similarities, overall, the sneaker market and stock market function in very different ways. Whereas stock prices are highly sensitive to macroeconomic changes and the performance of specific businesses, sneaker resale prices are largely driven by supply and demand for a specific commodity.”
The impact has been similar for categories outside of footwear as well, as buying patterns have changed for consumers adjusting to life at home. eBay, for one, detailed several triple-digit “spikes in interest” across home, entertainment and health and beauty categories for “both used and new” products, as explained by Marni Levine, VP Seller Operations and Engagement. In some instances, the figures have even hit quadruple digits like in the case of webcams (which were up 1,000 percent year-over-year the first week of April) and puzzles (up 1,395 percent).
“Thus far, our sales volume and traffic numbers have been largely unaffected by recent events.”
Depop has experienced “record-breaking growth” for its traffic numbers in the U.S., exceeding its original business targets “by a huge margin” according to COO Dominic Rose. And the company points out that seller listings have also been on par with the influx of online activity, increasing as much as 80 percent year-over-year.
Even more niche, emerging digital marketplaces have noted a significant boost. Thrilling CEO Shilla Kim-Parker says that “sales have exploded” across March and April for her company, which launched in 2018 and sources vintage pieces from local stores (primarily women-owned) around the U.S. The first few months of 2020 have already surpassed the platform’s sales volume for all of 2019; though the company has dropped its commission rate to zero amid the crisis, ensuring that 100 percent of every purchase goes back to the sellers themselves (eBay has enacted similar changes for small businesses through its Up & Running program).
Perhaps, the secondhand market is already supported by the fact that it’s estimated to reach $36 billion USD in 2021 by a recent IBIS World report, though it was published in February prior to the virus’ fallout in the U.S. Still, the same article mentions a 2019 BCG analysis which points out that the global sales of secondhand luxury goods were already gravely outpacing the core luxury market, increasing by 12 percent on an annualized basis compared to the latter’s three percent.
And what, or whom, does the market have to thank? For one, sustainability and two, the usual drivers behind the movement: Gen Z and Millennials, 64 percent of which are influenced by sustainability when making purchases, as BCG reports. This might in turn explain why the secondhand market has seemed more elastic than ready-to-wear as the virus spreads (and unleashes health concerns) around the world — thus far, these age groups have been the least vulnerable of the masses, at least where health is concerned.
“I think because the customer base is such a younger audience, they’re not as in tune to what’s going on or don’t really care what’s going on,” posited Justice Hanson, an active seller in the Grailed community, when asked if buyers have ramped up with questions about wiping down packages or general product cleanliness. “On some other platforms I use like eBay, I’d say people are more keen on safety because the audience is a little bit older.” Still, Hanson notes that his listings have been selling “faster than ever in the past” all around.
That’s not to say that these subsets, Millennials and Gen Z, haven’t been dealt a financial blow equal or worse to that of other cohorts. They have — a recent article from The Atlantic even calls Millennials the “lost generation,” noting that “they have smaller savings accounts than prior generations,” “they have less money invested” and “they make less money.” But just as the BCG analysis suggests, they still consider environmental choices the majority of the time when it comes to their buying decisions. While the current predicament may present a financially difficult time to spend, those that are able to shop may be more inclined to do so at least in conscious ways.
For thrift and vintage purveyors like Round Two and Beacon’s Closet, which typically depend heavily on physical locations (and face-to-face interaction), the situation has been a bit more complicated than for digital powerhouses. “The only thing we are doing now is accumulating debt in the form of rent and health insurance,” stated Carrie Peterson, president and founder of Beacon’s Closet, which has had to furlough its store employees.
Her remarks still come tinged with a hint of reasonable expectancy. “I think resale is always solid,” Peterson said. “I do anticipate those who have lost jobs coming in with large volumes of clothing to sell! That will be good for inventory.” In the interim, the company has leaned more into its e-commerce shop, which individual store owners are operating in shifts. “Online shopping is solid still, it’s just a matter of us being able to post to meet demand.”
“Online shopping is solid still, it’s just a matter of us being able to post to meet demand.”
And while this marks the first time for Round Two to close its doors in seven years aside from major holidays, the brand has reacted quickly with the launch of a special webshop: vintagebyroundtwo.com. It may not alone offset the volume of the company’s 10 brick-and-mortar stores, but it is “adding value for sellers where it may have never been an option, at least not so swiftly” said founder Luke Fracher, who also recently announced a pop-up on Grailed.
“From what I can tell, people are excited to have access to our product since we’ve never really done online,” he said. “A lot of the stuff we’ve been selling, if you’re not in L.A., New York, Chicago, Miami, Virginia, wherever [the store is], you don’t really have access to it. So a lot of people internationally are excited.”
The eccentricity of certain purchases further signals an air of confidence as it pertains to consumer behavior in the secondhand realm. “I thought that people would want comfy clothes, the things that we know we’re all wearing right now all day at home,” recounted Thrilling’s Kim-Parker. “But I think what’s incredible is that the things people are buying, they are clearly planning to wear for when this is over…very colorful, expressive items, so that’s been encouraging as well.”
Peterson has observed similar trends. “People are still buying for a life outside of quarantine (or maybe for a life online, for their personas),” she said. “The other day someone bought a bright orange blazer with sparkly lapels which we titled ‘Disco is Not Dead.’ We hope that’s true!”
“People are still buying for a life outside of quarantine.”
The insight, while fresh, paints an aspirational picture for at least one aspect of the industry. It provides an optimism that feels appropriate and worth holding on to, and one that secondhand business leaders don’t take naively amid the shaky terrain of the coronavirus.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask me like, ‘Do you think the bottom is gonna fall out of like the shoe market or the secondhand market,’ and from what I can tell, the market is still pretty much where it was,” said Fracher.
“I don’t think it’s really affected it yet. I think still, there’s a feeling it could go either way. Things are gonna reopen in a month, everyone is gonna get their job back. Or you know, it’s not going to go that way — and as of right now, no one really knows which way it’s going to go.”