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Shoppers are big on the idea of recycling and repurposing goods, now more than ever. The re-use retail market has thrived over the last few decades thanks to secondhand stores, consignment shops, flea markets and thrift stores.

Online retailers recognize the popular trend of offering used clothes and are getting into the popular digital secondhand market — also known as recommerce. thredUP is leading the charge in online resales and defining fashion as the leading recommerce vertical.

Offering more than 35,000 brands at 90% off retail prices, thredUP is the world’s largest resale marketplace, with many others like Signifyd customer Throwback Vault following in its digital footsteps. They’ve also published research on the projected growth of the U.S. recommerce market, estimating it will top out at $51 billion by 2023

Retailers that specialize in key recommerce verticals, like fashion and physical media (think books, video games and DVDs) can benefit from taking their sales to omnichannel and reach more customers who are looking for a deal on pre-owned goods. 

We’re taking a quick look into the trend, why it’s successful (especially with younger shoppers) and what lessons retail leaders can learn from recommerce platforms — even if you’re not targeting a move to the secondhand selling option.

Key takeaways
  • Online entrepreneurs and legacy retailers are recognizing the growing trend in secondhand sales of clothing and other items in the recommerce market. 
  • Platforms and sellers like GameStop, Goodwill Industries and thredUP show that all types of products are available in the resale marketplace, with fashion leading as the primary recommerce industry.
  • Frugal millennial and Generation Z shoppers are driving the recommerce market with a desire for high-quality designer items at a reasonable price, with a focus on sustainability. 

A longstanding tradition made new through technology

The recommerce business model, also known as reverse commerce or the reverse marketplace, is the increasingly common sales practice of buying and selling previously owned goods via an ecommerce website, platform or app.

Recommerce sales allow people to easily search for goods at a lower price. Many businesses engaging in recommerce invest in items that are no longer readily available through the manufacturer. Perhaps the items have been phased out or failed to sell due to a lack of customer interest since the original sales launch. Recommerce sellers then refurbish those items — or simply relaunch unused products — and reintroduce them to a new market that missed the initial product launch. Another market for recommerce products may include consumers who need to replace parts on the originally purchased item, notes The Renewal Workshop

EBay established the recommerce market by offering gently used, quality clothing for nearly a quarter of a century through auction and direct sales. While peer-to-peer selling and trading has been popular on recommerce websites like Craigslist, recommerce is now becoming a big part of the ecommerce and omnichannel retail boom.

Recommerce has grown up in a big way thanks to success in a few key verticals. Expanding into categories like high-end fashion has taken recommerce from its humble beginnings to a true global economic juggernaut. Here’s how reselling fine fashion made it all happen, including catching the eye of the world’s biggest traditional retailers.

Fashion leads recommerce down the runway to growth

The variety of types of resellers shows that a number of industries have found their place in recommerce. However, fashion is leading growth for recommerce more than any other industry, according to resale industry statistics.

In July 2019, Vogue India featured important points as to why the fashion industry remains so popular in the resale market, citing how everyone wants to dress well and look good, but not everyone can afford the price tag of trendy, high-quality clothing. The secondhand market levels the playing field for those who want to wear well-made clothing by top designers while also appealing to those concerned about sustainability.  

Top online fashion resellers including Poshmark, The RealReal and the previously mentioned thredUp, along with a growing number of new digital recommerce marketplaces, post thousands of new items each day, making it simple for budget-conscious shoppers to find clothing essentials and more on their mobile phone and buy them in an instant. 

Traditional retailers are taking notice. Nordstrom is launching a recommerce offshoot called “See You Tomorrow” that will offer omnichannel shopping options through its New York flagship store and an ecommerce site. reports that the “See You Tomorrow” store will provide secondhand pieces from high-end brands such as Burberry and Adidas.

Merchants and retail leaders can cash in on the billions of dollars flowing in from shoppers looking for great deals on top brands and labels. Recommerce owes much of its growth to millennial, Generation Z and cross-border shoppers. Understanding their needs is the first step to creating a strong recommerce strategy.

Young shoppers and cross-border commerce drive recommerce success

Millennials and Generation Z thrive on trends that allow them greater creativity and value. Recommerce offers everything they love and more. Any stigma once attached to the thrift market has been greatly reduced for these demographics.

They’re also cashing in on the rentals market. Their preference for reusable items like clothing, accessories and furniture is based on the ease of the subscription rental service: a promise of the lifestyle you want, without the upfront costs. Ownership is less of an issue for younger shoppers, whether it be as a secondary or even temporary owner. 

As digital natives, Generation Z shops via their mobile devices and omnichannel experiences. Great digital experiences have powered the retail revolution, extending all the way to China’s recommerce boom. Inc 42 noted that China has fully embraced the reverse commerce sector of used goods, particularly when it comes to electronic gadgets.  

China’s recommerce market generates $60 billion alone. Retail leaders in any industry can benefit from a closer look at China’s experience with this increasingly popular approach to sales, sustainability and status at a bargain price.  

The recommerce trend is just getting started. Retailers of all kinds — branching out beyond eBay and Goodwill — can expand their original business model to satisfy this rapidly growing market. The main things to keep in mind apply to any solid retail strategy: smart pricing models, quality goods and digital engagement. Cues from the success of recommerce can influence growth for any retail leader who’s willing to listen.

Chris Martinez

Chris Martinez

Chris is a content strategist at Signifyd.