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The Digital Treasure Hunt: Discovery Best Practices for the Second-Hand Economy

Sarah HillelSarah Hillel | August 5, 2020

Anna Sui once said, “Clothing is so magical. You can really use it to create yourself in a certain way. It’s kind of a vocabulary of expressing yourself.”

Fashion is universal, yet diverse. Everyone wears it, but everyone wears it differently. From luxury to thrifted finds, self-expression through fashion knows no bounds. And this drive to communicate one’s unique personal taste and individuality fuels the growth of the second-hand economy.

second-hand economy ecommerce

As a brand, you have the power to create experiences that spark fashion inspiration — whether you’re selling clothing, bags, jewelry, or shoes. The more intuitively you connect shoppers to your products, the more you can help them express themselves with unique, second-hand treasures. This post will delve into four best practices for discovery when you’re selling second hand.

A Quick Overview of the Modern Second-Hand Economy

A booming sector: In the next five years, the second-hand market is set to hit $64 billion, according to GlobalData. Despite the impact that COVID-19 has had on traditional retail, online second-hand shopping is expected to grow by 69% between by 2021.

Inside consumer motivation: Even before the pandemic, second-hand shoppers had many reasons for buying pre-owned items. In addition to saving money, they’re driven by the thrill of the hunt, the joy of finding valuable yet unique pieces that fuel their visual inspiration and individuality.

Recently, ethical consumption, sustainability, and visual social media content have had an added influence on shoppers’ purchase decisions—especially for Gen Z. As people stay at home and navigate economic uncertainty, more (44%) will shift to buying second-hand. Moreover, two out of three people are now open to selling used goods, ensuring the continuity of this unique market.

Common Barriers to Second-Hand Shopping

From luxury consignment stores to peer-to-peer online marketplaces, consumers feel proud to shop second-hand. Finding treasure among items that have been discarded generates a certain sense of excitement and fulfillment.

As good as it sounds, there are still barriers that put consumers off thrifting and resale:

  • Lack of time: Millennials and Gen Z are busy. Oftentimes, particularly for those who are used to a quick and convenient lifestyle, browsing through second-hand online marketplaces and brick-and-mortar stores can feel like a dizzying maze.

second-hand economy ecommerce

  • Intimidating atmosphere: Some shoppers see traditional second-hand stores as “lacking attention to visual merchandising and layout.” Online, this translates to low-quality photos, incorrect product categorization, and poor design. While this is more common for run-of-the-mill thrift shops, curated vintage marketplaces can also suffer from similar pains. When shoppers feel lost searching for a second-hand item, the journey can end before it really begins.
  • Difficult-to-find products: Without a doubt, some second-hand shoppers are in it for the hunt. However, as consumers increasingly flock to vintage goods, they more often than not have a detailed idea of the item they’re looking for. Whether it’s a trendy item or an outfit for a themed party, these shoppers need a dynamic, hyper-accurate way to search for products.

Discovery Best Practices for the Second-Hand Economy

In retail, second-hand or not, customer experience matters. And in the pre-loved space, customer relationships rely on sellers that can reliably connect shoppers with their “treasure.”

Here are some key ways to ensure shoppers find your brand and the products they’re looking for fast:

  1. Be where your customers are — on social media

DIY upcycles,  thrift flips, vintage designer shopping journeys — these topics dominate the fashion world on visual social media platforms, especially on YouTube. Shoppers love sharing the experience of coming across high-value products at a bargain price. Likewise, consumers get ideas from watching transformations that give old items a new life and purpose.

In addition to ads, you can partner with online personalities and influencers to promote your second-hand shop. Let content creators showcase your best pre-loved products and direct their viewers to your website or app.

  1. Foster connections with your community through experiential retail

The second-hand economy brings together certain types of shoppers. Apart from bargain hunters, these are the sustainably responsible, eco-conscious consumers, who care about the environment and social causes.

So, for brands in the thrifting, resale, and luxury consignment markets, it’s important to communicate your competitive pricing and social values. You can partner with local charities as well as create online and offline experiences, like themed sales for a good cause,  to increase brand awareness and strengthen your relationship with customers.

vintage shopping ecommerce

Some other examples of experiential retail for the second-hand economy include educational events, vintage exhibitions, and upcycling or thrifting contests. These also give you an opportunity to highlight your products and promote style ideas to consumers.

  1. Keep your storefronts and landing pages fresh

To keep shoppers coming back to your shop, or to immediately catch the attention of new visitors, provide and cultivate visual inspiration and encourage creativity. Do this by regularly changing and circulating products on your storefronts or homepage.

If you know your consumers’ shopping behavior and browsing history, you can even customize landing pages accordingly.

  1. Invest in the right technology

To tailor your shoppers’ experiences to their individual habits, you need next-generation digital solutions:

  • Make product discovery faster and easier. To address the concern of busy shoppers as well as ease the difficulty of putting a unique vintage must-have item into words, you can enable consumers to search your website with an image. With visual search, shoppers just have to upload a photo of their style inspiration and immediately get visually similar results of products you have on stock.
  • Streamline your inventory and deliver the most relevant results with deep tagging. Ensure that when shoppers search your website, they get what they’re looking for and don’t have to sift through irrelevant results. With an AI-based deep tagging solution, you can automatically identify and tag the attributes that make your items unique, leading shoppers directly to their dream products.

second-hand economy ecommerce

  • Gather trend data based on shopper search terms. Another great thing about automatically deep tagging products is that you can uncover insights from search data. You can understand what your shoppers are looking for, curate the most relevant selection for your audience, and of course, keep your catalog in-season by predicting demand.
  • Keep customers engaged with intelligent recommendations. While second-hand shoppers usually know what they’re looking for, some are still browsing. For consumers who are online window-shopping, intelligent recommendations work best. They highlight products and visually similar items based on shoppers’ browsing behavior. This functionality is also great for shoppers who love a one-off pair of shoes or jeans but can’t find them in their size — AI-powered recommendation engines can ensure they find other similar items in your inventory.
  • Help shoppers zero in on their personal style with a discovery icon. Vintage shoppers are looking to create a unique look and they need “someone” to understand the subtleties of their style. Having a discovery icon on your product images enables a “Pinterest-style” navigation on your website that makes any photo instantly shoppable. It can help consumers visually refine their search until they’re left with items that match exactly what they were looking for.

With these discovery best practices, brands can turn the digital treasure hunt into an inspiring visual journey that ensures shoppers find the outfits that make them stand out.


Sarah Hillel

Sarah Hillel

Sarah is the Global Events and Marketing Manager at Syte. From conception to evaluation, Sarah is passionate about delivering impactful events that enhance the organization's image and brand to client experience.

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