Sustainable Retail: Waking up to the potential in the wardrobe

Welcome to the latest sustainability column that takes a look at what retailing is doing to address the issues in its industry. Much of the ongoing focus will be on fashion but not exclusively.

This month’s column takes a look at the most recent strides made within the resale sector – one of the most constantly evolving areas of innovation and change in fashion

We are very pleased to bring this series of columns to you with the much appreciated support of our sponsor Prolog Fulfilment.

There’s nowt so queer as folk goes the saying and the stats on clothing usage certainly seem to back this up. More than 90% of respondents in a recent eBay survey admitted that they had clothes in their wardrobe that they never wear. However, in the same survey only a quarter of those asked said that they actually get round to selling unwanted garments. It’s not the buyers that are a problem here – it’s definitely the sellers.

The stumbling block in getting a time-poor, disposably-minded world to sell their clothes has always been the general faff and costs included in the deal as well as the emotion and memories that people often assign to many of their clothing items.

It’s been clear for a while that the main problem the second-hand market really has is not a dearth of clothes – we all know they are there because at the last estimation there was £16.3 billion worth languishing in the nation’s wardrobes – it is getting them out of the closet and onto the resale sites. However, several of the leading platforms are now switching some of the financial burden from seller to buyer in an attempt to make it even easier to sell pre-worn clothes online.

Charging fees to the seller has always been the cornerstone of online selling but both eBay and Depop have now decided that on balance the most pressing need is to get more stuff out there for sale, which considerably outweighs the gains they make for charging listing fees. To that end they have scrapped those fees for clothing (not jewellery, trainers or handbags). Interestingly, this includes not only clothes that have been through the usual wear cycles but also new or gifted clothes with tags on that have never actually been worn by the seller.

And Depop has gone even further, flipping the burden over entirely by introducing a small fee to the buyer with the gamble that with so much demand for good pre-loved items out there, their buyers will not be put off by a tiny additional cost which will be up to 5% of the final item cost plus a £1 fixed cost.

A live auction event in eBay in progress

However, the fees are not the only thing that puts people off selling the estimated £400 worth of unwanted clothes the average person in the UK is sitting on. eBay has also launched AI-generated item descriptions and live auction events in the UK for the first time following a successful launch in the US a few years ago. The item descriptor will cut down listing time considerably which when dealing with multiple items really will make a difference to the ‘chore’ that is selling clothes compared to the ‘pleasure’ of browsing. And live auction events could be a real game-changer for people who sell a lot of items and can bring a bit of theatre into the process.

Other recent developments aimed at taking the schlepp out of resale include Decathlon’s decision to roll-out a nationwide buyback service that provides credit for shoppers who bring in Decathlon products, which are then refurbished and sold on. This is initially aimed at own-brand bicycles and will expand to other sport equipment in the first instance.

We also have Amazon’s partnership with Hardly Ever Worn It (HEWI) on its Luxury Stores at Amazon. There is now a pre-loved shopfront on the Luxury Stores tab specifically catering for HEWI’s accessible luxury prices. Interesting again to note that HEWI specifically caters for items that have been traditionally difficult to price for resale being neither genuinely new nor well-worn but a new kind of category somewhere in between – a market eBay has also clearly identified as per its inclusion of new and gifted items.

Sharon Wolter-Ferguson: Founder of Hardly Ever Worn It

An awful lot of emphasis during the resale market’s huge growth has been put on the benefits of buying second-hand for the environment and the pocket of the buyer. This has definitely worked and the world is now a place of many hundreds of millions of second-hand loving people with a big demand and not enough stock being sold to fulfil it.

Statistics tend to focus on how people of all ages are buying second-hand and influencers proudly pose in the pre-loved items they have bagged. But now the new onus is to transfer some of that same positive energy onto the concept of stocking the market, which can emphasise the ease of selling and the good returns that can be made. Some of the moves detailed above will hopefully do just that because for the circular economy to be properly functioning both sides of the transaction have to be in balance.

Glynn Davis, editor, Retail Insider

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