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Joshua Williams of Fashion News Bytes

Secondhand Buying and Selling Expands Customer Experience

By Joshua Williams

22 Apr 2021

As companies like the Real Real, 1st Dibs and DePop continue to make market share inroads when it comes to overall apparel and accessory sales, two key areas of conversation have emerged.

One focuses on who has the right in a secondary market to sell certain brands. Most notably, Chanel has filed three lawsuits against The RealReal and 15 cease and desist orders. Their core contentions are that they should have complete control over who sells their product; they should always benefit from the sell of their product; and finally, that they are the only ones able to ensure authenticity. While Chanel, and other luxury brands, have long been sold at secondhand stores throughout the world, the difference here is The RealReal’s scale and control.

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The other conversation focuses on that of fashion sustainability and the shift of consumer behavior towards buying something used, rather than something new. In fact, this has been a marketing strategy that The RealReal has been using in its television ads. And while there are clear benefits to selling and buying secondhand products, for many this claim seems to be more greenwashing than true. After all, The RealReal relies on a heavy back and forth shipping scheme to receive and sell product. What’s more, the pay out for customers is fairly low, as the company sets the sell price—and therefore potentially undermines the customer’s reason to be part of this transaction

What’s largely missing in these conversations, is a discussion about the long view of brand engagement, especially post-purchase. Typically, marketing strategy is focused on getting a customer back in the door to buy new product, not sell or purchase used product. And yet, by embracing secondhand sales, there is real potential for fashion brands, luxury specifically, to rethink and reengage customers in a more lifelong experience—that recognizes the twists and turns of trends and social behaviors.

For example, not more than 50 years ago, part of the Chanel experience was, in fact, going to Paris to visit the store on Rue Cambon and being fitted for a made-to-measure dress. Now that Chanel has stores worldwide, this is no longer necessary. So, imagine what a carefully curated vintage store experience might be like, owned and operated by Chanel in Paris only. And what if Chanel operated an online expansion of this experience—allowing them to meet growing customer demand for an online experience, while still maintaining exclusivity and control when it comes to their new collections?

Not only does this provide another layer to the contemporary brand experience, that is largely now online, but it also provides a brand like Chanel a chance to better manage which product is on the market, which in turn allows them more control of the overall brand DNA and brand narrative.

What’s more, as luxury prices continue to rise in value—especially one-of-a-kind pieces and short run collections—there is an opportunity to rethink apparel and accessories in the context of antique and art markets. In many cases, these markets excel at building value over time—while fashion has always focused on the new—with a few outliers such as Nike. For artists, makers and brands who understand this, they have been able to control and monetize their legacies closely. For those who don’t, the transfer in power has been to the auction houses and galleries that reap most of the benefits of the sale.

In short, The RealReal can and will dominate the market if the brands let them—notwithstanding the lawsuits. But, if brands act now, with this long view mindset, not only can they better control the market, they can also develop a more layered and engaged consumer experience across multiple touch points, and across a lifetime.