Why People Shop Secondhand

Why People Shop Secondhand

Resale is growing 11x faster than broader apparel retail. But why do an increasing number of consumers choose to shop secondhand, and what does that mean for brands?

To understand the why, let’s first take a look at the who. Although recent surveys show the growth of resale and secondhand shopping across all generations, there’s a difference in who’s most likely to sell - and who’s most likely to buy secondhand.

Gen X is currently driving resale supply. Sellers are largely motivated by a combination of sustainability, decluttering and earning money to reinvest in their wardrobe.

Demand for secondhand clothing is highest among Gen Z and Millennial consumers. Here are the top three reasons for buyers choosing to shop secondhand:

  1. Affordability
  2. Sustainability
  3. Uniqueness

Let’s take a closer look at each — and what they mean for brands.


Affordability regularly comes first in consumer surveys as the top motivator for shopping secondhand: it was the primary reason for 74.6% of buyers surveyed by GlobalData in 2021.

There’s a clear shift happening here: Gen Z and Millennial consumers are replacing fast fashion with higher quality, secondhand pieces that they might not be able to afford new.

This makes resale an essential channel for premium brands looking to engage with a younger generation of shoppers. Gen Z consumers are now more likely to first experience a luxury brand secondhand, through a third-party marketplace. Brands that offer resale themselves are able to control the experience, delight customers and win over the next generation.


Consumers are increasingly conscious of the social and environmental impact of their purchases. As many as 75% of Gen Z buyers now state that sustainability is more important to them than brand name. Of The RealReal’s customers, 43% say they shop secondhand for sustainability and environmental impact.

However, few people make decisions based on perceived sustainability alone. Consumers still expect a combination of sustainability, affordability and convenience. A useful indicator of relative importance is the premium consumers are willing to pay for a product they consider ‘sustainable’. This has historically lagged behind the metrics above, but it appears to be catching up: over 50% of both Gen Z and Millennials are now willing to pay at least 10% more for sustainable products. That’s an increase of 72% and 54%, respectively, over the past two years.

Brands must make a deep, credible commitment to improving their social and environmental impact to meet these expectations — including across fabric sourcing, production, shipping and packaging.

Resale also plays an important role here, since its benefits for extending product life resonate particularly well with consumers. In fact, 1.6x as many consumers say they plan to spend more on secondhand clothing in the next 5 years than on products marketed as ‘sustainable’. But brands must ensure that their resale programme is actually beneficial for the planet!


The third important motivator for shopping secondhand is the ability it affords consumers to discover products that are unique, rare, or no longer available to buy new — around 50% of secondhand shoppers prefer brands that offer the excitement of not knowing what they’ll find.

Again, this is particularly important for Gen Z shoppers who value independence and freedom to define their own style, straying from the beaten path. Instead of ever-accelerating collections and production runs, resale gives brands a unique opportunity to deepen these relationships with their customers by bringing back past collections and offering them a new lease of life.

To recap, the Gen Z and Millennial consumers who are most likely to shop secondhand care about the combination of affordability, sustainability and uniqueness. Though affordability is still the most significant driver, this is changing, and resale gives brands an opportunity to meet consumer demand in a way that is hard to achieve through creating new products at an ever-increasing pace.

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