Last updated: What is recommerce: Definition, benefits, examples

What is recommerce: Definition, benefits, examples


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People have been reselling items for as long as they’ve been buying them. But the combination of climate change urgency, tightening personal budgets, and advanced e-commerce technology has created the perfect conditions for recommerce to thrive.

According to ThredUp’s Resale Report, branded recommerce is having a moment. The number of brands with their own resale shops increased 275% from 2020 to 2021. And the global secondhand apparel market is growing three times faster than the apparel market overall. In 2022, it grew to $177 billion, up 28% from 2021.

As more and more people seek out sustainable and affordable shopping experiences, more brands are stepping in to deliver.

What is recommerce? A look at the secondhand rebrand

Recommerce is the business of buying and selling used or overstocked products through a digital storefront. Sites like eBay and Craigslist have enabled people to shop secondhand online since 1995, and newer marketplaces like ThredUp and The RealReal (for fashion) and Decluttr (for electronics) started popping up less than two decades later.

Recommerce. Thrifting. Secondhand shopping. A resale by any name saves me money.

These new experiences helped shift consumer perceptions about resale. “Used” no longer means “low-value or undesirable.” You can shop with some level of confidence that the products will be of a certain quality. And the shops aren’t just boasting discounted items – they’re touting environmental impact and a superior shopping experience, too.

Between the cost-savings and the sustainability benefits, secondhand shopping has found new life. Today, 65% of all shoppers use some resale or recommerce service.

While the early adopters of the recommerce movement were companies re-selling branded products (ThredUp, Poshmark, etc.), it’s no longer just for third-party retailers – top brands are getting in on the action, too. As future generations focus on sustainability as a selling point, retailers have felt the effects of waning market demand for new products.

Sell, sell again: How brands benefit from recommerce

It’s not just shoppers who cash in on the benefits of the resale market. While brands used to be skeptical about offering used items on their sites (Wouldn’t it just cannibalize their market? Why would someone buy new if they could buy used for less?), their fears have proven unfounded.

According to Andy Ruben, CEO of the resale solution Trove, the data shows that branded resale programs drive incredible incremental revenue at great margins.

But that’s not all companies stand to gain. In-house recommerce program benefits can also:

  1. Build loyalty with existing customers
  2. Boost your brand’s reputation for sustainable practices
  3. Expand your reach to new customers
  4. Provide a second chance to sell overstocked items

That’s all while keeping unsold and used products out of landfills.

Ready to resell? Here are some things to consider

Of course, creating a successful recommerce experience isn’t as simple as adding a page to your e-commerce site. While you want the experience to be on par with your overall CX, there are some special considerations.

Here are some questions to get you started:
  1. Why will customers re-shop your brand?

    This boils down to understanding your customers and the value you offer. What about your brand will entice recommerce shoppers to come to you?

    Environmentally conscious brands like Patagonia and REI have long attracted sustainably-minded shoppers. So, their recommerce programs feel like a natural extension of their brand promises. Designer and luxury brands may attract more clients with the promise of discounts than sustainability.

    Take an honest look at your brand and identify the key value your recommerce experience will provide.

  2. How will you evaluate – and demonstrate – quality?

    What one person considers “gently used” another may see as “worn the F out,” so you’ll need to establish standards for quality control. Then, you’ll need to determine how you’ll communicate those standards to your shoppers. For example, Patagonia’s recommerce sites explains their product condition rankings right on the page:

    This goes beyond copy, though. How you photograph and display used items on your site needs to be different from how you would with new items. When people shop used, they want to see the actual item they’re shopping for – not just a model. Photos should show any noticeable flaws or defects clearly and upfront.

    You’ll also need to decide what to do with “unsellable” items you receive. Will they be recycled? Donated? Let customers know their items won’t just end up in another landfill.

  3. In-house, or third-party recommerce?

    Finally, when it comes to logistics, do you have the bandwidth to manage operations in-house, or does it make sense to partner with a third party? This may come down to the how much you expect to resell. There are advantages to both.

    Keeping things in-house gives you ultimate control over the whole experience – from pricing to customer communications. But, working with third-party partners means you don’t have to worry about every last detail. Sites like ThredUp will help you create branded storefronts with all their functionality. So you can lean on their expertise, while still creating a unique experience for your customers.

Recommerce: success that sustains

Recommerce has become more popular as more consumers are driven to shop sustainably. And as more and more brands realize that reselling can be profitable and brand-boosting, expect to see more first-party recommerce experiences cropping up in years to come.

Does that mean the end of third-party sites like ThredUp and The RealReal? Absolutely not. Those sites will continue to thrive, and offer added benefits to brands and consumers alike.

When it comes to more conscious, sustainable shopping, there’s room for everyone at the table.

Re-sell, re-use, recommerce.
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