How Online Clothing Resellers are Surviving — and Even Thriving — During Quarantine

April 14, 2020
Kaleigh Moore

How Online Clothing Resellers are Surviving — and Even Thriving — During Quarantine

April 14, 2020
Kaleigh Moore
Get the latest straight to your inbox
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Share on:

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.

The State of Business for Clothing Resellers

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.

clothing resale business survey in March 2020
Data source: Kaleigh Moore via a Google Forms survey sent to U.S.-based resellers on the Closet Tools mailing list.

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?

Adapting to the Current Climate and Changing Market Demands

To accommodate the ever-changing landscape, clothing resellers are getting strategic about their business models to keep operations safe and healthy.

How Sellers are Tweaking or Changing Their Business Models

Here are several ways sellers are changing their models on the fly.

  • Lowering prices. With economic uncertainty, consumers often pull back on purchasing non-essential items. Knowing this, some resellers are lowering their prices across the board to make their offerings more affordable for shoppers who are facing financial restraints right now.
  • Hiring help. As resellers find themselves with extra time to devote to their resale efforts, some are leaning into their businesses and actually scaling up their operations by bringing on hired help, such as a virtual assistant, social media manager or graphic designer.
  • Using quiet time to add more listings/relist. For some resellers whose operations have slowed down right now, this quiet time is being used to relist older items or to add new listings to their online shops. By increasing their inventory, they’re providing themselves more opportunities to make sales and attract new buyers.
  • Going omnichannel. To reach more broad audiences and up their odds of making sales, some resellers are diversifying their online listings and adding them to new channels and platforms (also known omnichannel). For example, some Poshmark-only resellers are now adding their listings to additional platforms like eBay and Depop.
  • Product diversification. For resellers who’ve noticed a slowdown in sales around their product offerings, some are adding items in brand new categories to diversify their lineups. For example, adding new listings in categories like accessories, shoes and handbags to their stores.
  • Donating to COVID-focused causes. Some sellers are adding notices to their shops that they will be donating a portion of their profits to COVID-related causes. This show of goodwill helps shoppers feel like their purchases are not only good for the environment, but also supporting worthy causes.
  • Closing up shop for now. For other resellers who are unable to source products or access their supply chains, some have made the tough decision to close their operation completely or put their shops on away/vacation mode for the time being. This is also true for resellers who feel the risk of shipping items is too high at the moment.

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.

How Sellers are Addressing Safety Concerns and Shelter-in-Place Laws

Here are some of the measures resellers are taking at this time.

  • Not thrifting in physical stores and sourcing online. For resellers who typically sourced products for resale by picking through items at physical retail stores or in-person markets, many have had to shift these efforts online as stores and public gatherings are not currently an option.
  • Shifting to online sales. For resellers who sell on consignment in physical retail stores, have pop-up shops or sell at physical marketplaces, many have had to pivot these operations to online. This means setting up ecommerce stores, accepting online or digital payments and executing logistics within this environment.
  • Washing or sanitizing items right before packing. As a safety precaution for shoppers, some sellers are implementing extra cleaning and sanitation practices before shipping orders to ensure products are as safe and germ-free as possible.
  • Using delivery services to ship or pick up items from home. As many sellers aren’t able or interested in venturing out to the post office or shipping centers, most have started taking advantage of at-home pickup options so orders can still be sent out without leaving home with zero contact.
  • Reducing shipping days. For sellers who do still have to drop off packages at a shipping center, some have reduced their shipment days down to one per week and are notifying customers that order fulfillment may be slightly delayed as a result.

Insights from 5 Individual Clothing Resellers

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.

1. Sourcing Issues and Shifting Category Interest

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).

The Hip Lion offerings on eBay
Image source: The Hip Lion

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. 

2. Engaging Shoppers via Social Media

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.

Poshmark profile selling women's clothing and accessories
Image source: Suzanne Canon’s Poshmark profile

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.

3. Pivoting and Rebranding

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. 

UNA on vintage clothing shop Unadviced
Image source: Unadviced on Depop

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.

4. Selling on Social

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. 

Sammy Davis selling vintage clothing on Instagram
Image source: Sammy Davis’ Instagram

“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.

5. Testing Pricing and Photography Changes

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.

Chelsea Hondros' Poshmark profile with women's fashion
Image source: Chelsea Hondros’ Poshmark profile

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.

The Big Picture

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

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.