Chris Monroe/CNET

Fashion disruptors: Welcome to the era of secondhand retail apps

Smartphone resale apps like Poshmark, Mercari and ThredUp are changing the way we buy and sell online.

Last time you cleaned out your closet, you may have considered your local consignment store or donation center. Those are great options, and plenty of people still rely on these as their first stop for affordable goods. But secondhand shopping apps are creating a resale renaissance that's changing what we buy and how we buy it. 

Secondhand consignment site and mobile app ThredUp noted in a recent report that secondhand retail grew 21 times faster than the traditional retail apparel market in the last three years alone, thanks to online shopping and mobile apps. Just last month, Macy's and JCPenney announced that several of their department stores will soon have sections stocked with secondhand fashion from ThredUp. 

Options for selling your gently used clothing, shoes, accessories and even home goods go far beyond just eBay or Craigslist. Dozens of apps offer ways for individuals to buy or sell used items. Heck, you can even sell your car or home online.


In August, JCPenney and Macy's announced plans to test in-store ThredUp collections in select cities.


Those options deserve a fair amount of caution and skepticism for such large purchases, but it's proof of the broader trend. In an age of buying pretty much everything online, it makes sense that secondhand retail stands a real chance at revolutionizing the industry.   

What is secondhand retail, exactly? 

"Secondhand" means anything resold after its original purchase from a manufacturer or retailer, regardless of the item's condition. Whether it's NWT ("New With Tags"), EUC ("Excellent Used Condition) or "preloved," secondhand items offer a valuable alternative, even to bargain stores like TJ Maxx or Ross.

You have dozens of options if you're looking to buy or sell secondhand items on a mobile app. Most of these also have a corresponding website for desktop users. Those apps are growing in size every day.

Screenshot by Molly Price/CNET

Poshmark's CEO and founder Manish Chandra told me the Poshmark app has 50 million users. Mercari, an app created in Japan and adapted for the US, claims more than 2 million monthly active users in the US and 150,000 items listed each day. 

"There's broad consensus that demographically and culturally, resale is poised to go mainstream," said Mercari US CEO, John Lagerling. "For a variety of reasons, people are becoming more conscious about their consumption."

Apps, markets and services

Selling your used stuff online certainly isn't new. eBay broke onto the scene in 1995 and set the tone for secondhand selling online. Craigslist came along that same year with what we'll call a more "choose your own adventure" style of commerce. Now, with the rise of mobile apps, social media feed ads and the option to complete nearly every human transaction (I'm looking at you, Tinder) from your phone, the competition is much tougher. 

Online resale can be sorted into two basic types: peer-to-peer and consignment services. Peer-to-peer platforms are similar to eBay, with sellers registering and uploading their own photos and descriptions of goods and fulfilling shipments. Consignment services offer a more-involved third party, where you send your items in to the service, and a staff member photographs and lists them for you and ships them to the buyer.

There are luxury options, too. Some apps include a special luxury category, while some focus entirely on the luxury market. TheRealReal, for example specializes in secondhand goods from hundreds of high-end brands like Christian Louboutin, Hermes, Chanel and Tom Ford. Like ThredUp, you'll send in your luxury items to be photographed, cataloged and posted for sale. There's also an in-person pickup option for select cities. 


Mercari's app and corresponding website include categories for women's fashion, men's fashion, electronics, home goods and more. 

Screenshot by Molly Price/CNET

All these platforms have one thing in common -- they're profiting from your sale. No matter which avenue you choose, you'll have to hand over a percentage of your sales, as you would in a traditional brick-and-mortar consignment store. For most apps, it's a flat percentage of your sale -- 10% at Mercari, 20% at Poshmark for sales over $15. ThredUp's percentage varies depending on the item's final sale price. The more it sells for, the more you get to keep, maxing out at 80%. 

Which way is best?

For most people, the peer-to-peer approach is simplest for selling. You can snap a few photos, select a few specifics from the product category and set your price. You'll also get to hang onto your item until it's sold. For buyers, consignment services like ThredUp offer a second, professional set of eyes on your prospective purchase. Someone unattached to the item will inspect it, size it and describe its condition. 


The team at ThredUp photograph and list your items for you. 

Gani Pinero/ThredUp

Whether it's peer-to-peer or a service, most also offer flat rate and simplified shipping. Poshmark for example, charges the same shipping fee for every item, and lets you print a label at home, tape it to your box (any box that's in good shape) and have your mail carrier pick it up. Mercari recently partnered with UPS, so if you don't have a printer at home you can take your item to a UPS store with a QR code and they'll pack and ship it for you. 

Unlike eBay, these apps don't offer auction-style selling, though if you're looking for online auction apps there are certainly plenty of those out there, too. These resale apps do offer options like private discounts to people who have liked your listing, receiving offers and promoting price drops. 

What's made it so successful?

The major resale apps got their start about a decade ago. ThredUp and Tradesy, both consignment service sites, launched in 2009. Poshmark, a peer-to-peer app, began in 2011. Other peer-to-peer options came later -- Letgo in 2015, Mercari in 2013 and Facebook Marketplace in 2016. Cut to 2019, when we're dating, grocery shopping, going to the doctor and attending board meetings all from our phones, and the market is ripe for app-focused retail. 

The secondhand industry has generated billions of dollars in revenue in those years. ThredUp's 2019 report in partnership with third-party analytics firm GlobalData is full of stats on rising resale trends. Here are a few tidbits from that report:

  • Millennials (25 to 37) and boomers (55 to 65-plus) thrift more than any other age group.
  • In a GlobalData survey of 2,000 women, 64% said they would be willing to shop secondhand, an increase from 45% in 2016.
  • There's a growing interest in shopping sustainably, and buying an item used reduces its carbon footprint by approximately 82%.
  • The secondhand market is currently worth $24 billion and is estimated to reach $51 billion in the next five years.

Interestingly, ThredUp's report attributes some of its recent success of the site's "Clean out Kits" to the Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. The company states it saw an 80% increase in the Clean Out Kits when Kondo's show about minimizing went viral. Letgo co-founder Alec Oxenford made a similar observation. 

"It's not a coincidence that Marie Kondo and our app became popular at the same time," said Oxenford. "People are becoming thriftier and more conscious of what they buy, where they buy it, what's worth keeping, and what to do with whatever they don't need anymore. And new technology has made buying and selling secondhand more accessible than ever."


Japanese tidiness guru Marie Kondo has inspired millions of people to finally declutter their homes.

Denise Crew/Netflix

There are social and environmental aspects to the rise of secondhand retail, too. Poshmark CEO Manish Chandra believes a huge part of Poshmark's role is not just to facilitate online commerce, but to act as a social platform for like-minded consumers. 

"Consumers crave personalization and want to be seen and heard," said Chandra. "They value transparent and open communications with retailers, so it's the human interactions and social connections between Poshmark community members that power more personal, immersive transactions and drive a shopping experience unlike any other." 

How to do resale responsibly 

All this growth doesn't apply to just clothing and accessories. Apps like Letgo have categories for a wide range of items, like electronics and even cars. All these companies highlight their safe and secure payment methods and return policies, but if you're looking to make one of those high-dollar purchases (or even a small one), there's still plenty of reason to be cautious out there on The Internet. 

We all know the wild, wild west of buying and selling online is Craigslist, and if nothing else, the 24-year-old site has taught us to pay close attention to what's being advertised. Just like buying or selling items in person, online transactions require caution on all sides. Be smart. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. There are good tips for buyers and sellers on the internet. Here are a few: 

Know what you're looking for

If you're searching for an expensive item, know a lot about what authentic models look like so you don't get caught in a counterfeit nightmare. If you're buying from a consignment service, counterfeits aren't likely. Some sites, like Poshmark, offer authentication services for high-dollar items. Still, you should look closely at each photo of the item and know the return policy, as it can vary not only by website but by individual items.

Stay on site

It's important to deal directly on the site and turn down interested parties who ask to transact through email. Don't give away any personal information. You shouldn't have to tell users much about yourself on these apps, save for your username. There are options to fill out things like location, but those aren't necessary.

Read return policies

This one is important. Used items are likely not going to be in perfect condition. That's part of the reason they're discounted and can be a great deal. It's important to study photos for flaws and read all the fine print, including return policies.

When it comes to return policies, eBay protects its customers pretty well. There are protections for items that don't show up, arrive damaged or aren't as described in the listing. The same goes for Facebook Marketplace purchases, but only if they are made through Checkout with Facebook in the listing. The protections don't apply to anything you purchase through other methods like PayPal or meeting in person. 


ThredUp's 2019 report estimates a change in the future makeup of your closet.

ThredUp/GlobalData 2019 Resale Report

Poshmark, Letgo, Thredup and Mercari also offer protections in some circumstances like missing items and incorrect listings, but instances do exist where a sale is final and you'll be stuck with an unwanted item if you're not careful. There's still a good deal of due diligence you'll need to do as a buyer to give yourself the best chance of being happy with your used item.

What happens to Starcourt Mall?

The report from ThredUp that stated secondhand retail grew 21 times faster than retail in the past three years also estimates that the closet of the future will have less department and specialty store items in it. Specifically, that departments stores will lose 13% of their market share by 2028, with specialty stores like Gap or J. Crew losing 12%. Macy's and JCPenney could be ahead of the curve with their integration of secondhand sections to their stores, but it's undeniable that the future of buying and selling, even new items, is mostly mobile.

I challenge you to scroll through your social media feeds for one minute without seeing an ad to purchase a product directly on your phone. Amazon has gone from bookstore to megastore with its online presence and fast shipping. Secondhand retail likely won't be far behind, as consumers are turning an eye to sustainability, appreciating products with less packaging, and seeking out affordable, refurbished goods.