The Supply Side: Holiday thrifting for gifts trending in 2021

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 655 views 

Thrift stores and online resale marketplaces have been trending for several years. Still, as the 2021 holiday season approached and supply chain challenges persisted, more consumers were open to that alternative way of shopping.

A recent report from ThredUp, an Oakland, Calif.-based resale platform, indicates that 49% of consumers are considering alternatives like thrift stores or consignment shops this holiday season. ThredUp worked with research firm Global Data to conduct the nationwide survey asking respondents about holiday shopping behaviors related to secondhand items.

ThredUp reports that 62% of American shoppers believe secondhand gifts are “more socially acceptable now than five years ago.” It’s not just giving that’s become more popular as 66% of American shoppers said they’re now open to receiving a secondhand gift.

“It’s amazing and encouraging to see how many consumers are now open to gifting thrift,” said Erin Wallace, vice president of integrated marketing at ThredUp. “We’ve heard that consumers are growing tired of the waste of the holiday season and are increasingly seeking more sustainable options that align with their values. That is particularly true of Gen Z [consumers ages 10 to 24]. By choosing used for the holidays, consumers are cutting waste for their wallets and the planet.”

Scott Benedict, director of retail studies at Texas A&M University, said the reason shopping resale is resonating with Gen Z consumers is likely two-fold. He said college students often have limited budgets, but they also like nice things, so they see value in shopping resale for items they want to own. Benedict said his Gen Z son has asked for secondhand/vintage apparel in the past for holiday gifts because certain styles are no longer produced or perhaps are making a comeback and the vintage version is more affordable.

“They have also grown up with a true consciousness of the planet and have found favor with forward-thinking retailers like Patagonia who offer to fix or buy back items from customers to keep a greener footprint,” Benedict added.

While he doesn’t think resale will interrupt retail at scale, he does see it making a dent in some segments.

“I think about the fashion-forward, lower-priced retailers like Forever 21 or Old Navy that serve Gen Z and younger Millennials. Those fashion-conscious Gen Z consumers are likely to favor the value and quality of shopping resale for high-quality items, over buying cheaper, lower quality items,” Benedict said.

ThredUp also found that more than half (53%) of those surveyed considered thrift store gifts because of concerns over shipping delays, and 52% said they feared higher prices. One in three reported

worry over limited inventory that might complicate their shopping this year.

“Consumers are looking for better deals, sustainable shopping and a desire to give a gift that’s unique and that is driving more of them to resale,” the report notes.

Jessica Ramirez, a retail analyst at Jane Hali & Associates, said that when inventory is scarce or pricey, consumers will shop where they can find the items they need and get them home in time for Christmas.

Local thrift stores in Northwest Arkansas are seeing an uptick in business this year. Sarah Melton, a cashier at the Samaritan Community Center store in Rogers, told the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal the stores are busier with shoppers looking for gift ideas and seasonal items. The biggest reason she thinks people are shopping more thrift is to find better deals. The Goodwill Store in Bella Vista also reported being busy. Store workers said it’s been harder to keep the store fully stocked, not because they don’t have the merchandise, but because they don’t have enough labor to work the registers and stock the stores.

According to a report from Accenture, the secondhand market size continues to grow, and it’s not just the younger consumers making the purchases. This survey found that 33% are likely to buy secondhand items this holiday. For people under age 40, that number rose to 50%.

ThredUp and competitors Poshmark and The RealReal expect to post banner holiday seasons. Refinitiv, a financial market databank, estimates holiday sales will be up 22.9% for Poshmark and 53.3% for The RealReal, with ThredUp seeing its holiday sales lift 42%. ThredUp also is working with mainstream retailers like JCPenney and Macy’s. In August, ThredUp reported it would sell its secondhand apparel in select stores of the two iconic department store retailers. JCPenney offers secondhand women’s clothing and handbags in 30 of its stores, and Macy’s is carrying secondhand apparel in 40 of its stores during the holiday season.

JCPenney’s partnership with ThredUp will allow holiday shoppers to find select national brands for the first time in JCPenney stores, said Michelle Wlazlo, chief merchant at JCPenney.

Walmart partnered with ThredUp last year to let the marketplace e-tailer sell on The assortment included 750,000 pre-owned items from women’s and children’s clothing, accessories and footwear. Walmart also provides shoppers who spend $35 on the ThredUp page free shipping and free returns.

Denise Incandela, head of fashion for Walmart U.S., said the retail giant understands consumers are interested in resale clothing as 70% are now willing to shop thrift stores and marketplaces for gently used items. Carol Spieckerman, CEO of Spieckerman Retail, said she has watched the resale market grow. While most retailers haven’t invested in building out resale operations, ThredUp has changed the game with the multi-model approach.

“This allows retailers to tap into the circular economy through partnership. ThredUp’s expertise in customizing resale operations for specific retailers, to include physical locations, has allowed the company to work with multiple retailers without triggering competitive concerns,” she said.

Spieckerman thinks resale will continue to be a factor in retail, and ThredUp is singularly accelerating the trend.

“Even so, retailers are wise to focus on core strengths and leave the resale niche to the experts. On the competitive front, the resale model undoubtedly wicks away sales from enumerable retailers and e-tailers, with value-oriented operators the most vulnerable,” she added.

Spieckerman said resale wouldn’t overtake traditional retail, but it will nibble away at market share as ThredUp is essentially creating an “if you can’t beat them, join them” mandate.

Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Propak Logistics.