Worldwide, apparel resale is a $24 billion industry with an annual growth rate of 35% for online sales, according to Statista. It’s historically been a lucrative industry to be in.
Then a global pandemic happened.
How is the industry faring amid retail store closures, shelter-in-place laws and general consumer uncertainty? Here’s what expert clothing resellers are experiencing, as well as the changes they’re making in their businesses to stay afloat.
At present, things are changing by the day for clothing resellers.
A survey of 131 U.S.-based clothing resellers across various selling platforms such as Poshmark, eBay, Depop and others showed that the majority (60%) are already seeing a decrease in sales as of the last week of March.
Of those who aren’t in that majority, 27% of resellers are seeing business as usual, while a small portion (14%) are actually seeing an increase in sales.
If you ask Sammy Davis, reseller and founder of Thrift Boss Babes, an educational membership community for resellers, people are still buying within the clothing resale market. Not only that, they’re buying items sellers have had listed for quite some time — which is good news for sellers with a backlog of inventory.
“I believe sales have remained consistent because many people are still working from home and getting a paycheck,” Davis said. “That said, it’s not business as usual right now. From issues around sourcing products to finding and leveraging new online sales channels, resellers are having to get creative.”
So, how exactly are they doing that?
To accommodate the ever-changing landscape, clothing resellers are getting strategic about their business models to keep operations safe and healthy.
Here are several ways sellers are changing their models on the fly.
But business models aren’t the only thing being adjusted right now. Sellers are also having to consider how they’ll adapt their operations to comply with shelter-in-place laws, too.
Here are some of the measures resellers are taking at this time.
After reviewing broad shifts happening within the clothing resale market, we wanted to hear from individual sellers.
Here’s what they’re noticing and seeing on a day-to-day basis, as well as several ways they’re pivoting their businesses.
Long-time eBay clothing reseller Ryan Roots of The Hip Lion has seen a major shift in purchasing behaviors since mid-March. Clothing purchases have been cut in half over the past two weeks, while shoes have picked up traction (especially those for running and hiking, as more people are getting outdoors).
Sourcing inventory has been an issue as well.
“It’s hard for clothing resellers to get new inventory to sell right now. A lot of people source from thrift stores and second-hand boutiques, which are mostly closed,” he said. “As a result, we’ve been selling a ton of wholesale boxes of clothing (mainly vintage tees) and shoes… and we’re lucky enough to have a steady stream of inventory from our wholesale suppliers, too.”
Roots also works as a mentor to fellow resellers through his business Ralli Roots. He’s heard within his community that many resellers are moving away from apparel right now. Instead, there’s been a shift to more entertainment-oriented categories like video games, board games and electronics as more shoppers are at home and looking for something to occupy their time.
Top Poshmark seller Suzanne Canon also reported a noticeable business impact so far.
Aside from having to close down Infinity Raine, her physical clothing boutique, due to shelter-in-place laws, she’s still been able to sell items through Poshmark — although there’s been a slowdown in sales there as well in recent weeks.
As a result, she’s been focusing more on social media and marketing during this time, reminding customers that they’re still in business. She’s also been offering special sales to keep items moving. So far, her audience remains supportive and engaged through these efforts.
“We know things are uncertain right now, but hope that by ramping up our social media presence we will gain new customers when this pandemic is over,” she said.
Agus Panzoni opened her vintage clothing shop Unadviced on the resale platform Depop less than a year ago. So far, she’s seen a good deal of growth.
With the current situation, she’s decided to capitalize on the amount of time people are spending at home due to quarantine by offering customers a new experience that merges shopping and entertainment.
Over the past few weeks, she rebranded her store around UNA, a fictional artificial intelligence character she created inspired by the father of computer-generated personalities, Max Headroom.
She’s currently working on video content where UNA gives commentary on different topics while wearing three new pieces. These videos will be released daily, as well as the option for styled bundles, where customers can ask UNA to "use her AI" to style them a three-piece bundle for up to 25% off.
It’s paying off so far — she shared that sales are up in recent weeks.
Sammy Davis resells her clothing items via Instagram where she has direct access to her social media following. Shoppers pay via non-fee platforms like Venmo and payments are processed almost immediately.
Davis offers a weekly collection of 10 items to her Instagram following, records herself wearing the clothes and then posts a photo of herself with the size and cost.
“While I could be biased, I'm seeing an uptick in resellers using social media to sell. We've all amassed a social following, and there's no better time to start tapping into and selling direct to consumers versus waiting around for the ‘right’ customer to find our items,” she said.
By day, Chelsea Hondros works full time as a merchandise specialist for a clothing resale store based out of Philadelphia. On the side, she sells clothing items by designers seen in stores like Net A Porter, The Outnet, Revolve, Anthropologie and Free People on Poshmark. She currently has 327 active listings for a value of $32,576 at their listed price.
She shared that, from her point of view, the Poshmark community has definitely taken a hit since COVID-19. However, her sales are still trickling in as a result of sending out lower priced offers to shoppers who’ve liked her listings. She’s sold seven items totaling $278 profit since March 24.
Hondros is also using this time to improve her product images to boost her chances of selling more items.
“I have to work a little harder to get the sales these days by re-photographing items and re-posting them as a way to give the listing a new life. Since I have all this free time, I’m doing two shoots a week of about 40 items at a time,” she said.
Jordan O’Connor is the founder of Closet Tools, a resource for online clothing resellers. He describes the reseller market as one in balance right now.
“For every person that doesn't want to go to the post office to ship items, someone else is depending on Poshmark and reselling to make ends meet. And for every person who is pulling back on spending on clothing, another person is exclusively shopping online because department stores are shut down and they don't want to leave home,” he said.
It’s important for clothing resellers to stay agile during this time as consumers face uncertainty about what the future holds and to get creative when it comes to their business models.
While sales may have slowed down for some resellers for the time being, those who are open to change are finding ways to weather the storm.
Kaleigh Moore is a freelance writer specializing in ecommerce content. She also contributes to publications like Forbes and Vogue Business on topics around fashion and retail.