Secondhand and Resale Gifts Are Booming This Holiday Season, Retailers Say

As supply chain issues and rising prices set the scene for a lower-stocked and more costly holiday season, purchases of resale and secondhand gifts seem to be booming. Resale items are growing increasingly attractive to certain consumers for their lower prices and environment-friendly sustainability during a season often riddled with waste.

The RealReal, a luxury resale marketplace that has accrued more than 23 million members since going public more than two years ago, said that orders for unbranded jewelry with gift boxes increased by 73 percent in November compared to the same month last year.

The marketplace, which has an online site and a handful of stores across the U.S., also saw a 60 percent jump in orders with gift boxes during the 2020 holiday season compared to the year before, according to company data.

Meanwhile, online thrift retailer ThredUp saw gift card sales jump 103 percent during the first two weeks of December compared to all of November, said Erin Wallace, vice president of integrated marketing.

Marshal Cohen, a consumer behavior and retail analyst for the NPD Group, said that the "stigma" around secondhand items is gone.

"There is a new view of how valuable some of the resale product is. Grey market selling of new and used items are now reaching new heights. Scoring a great item others can only dream of is the new form of luxury," Cohen said.

Ashlee Piper, a sustainability expert and author of Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet, also argues that secondhand gifts can be more meaningful than a product anyone can buy off the shelves.

"Gifting at its core should be about thoughtfulness, and arguably more thought is put into finding a meaningful, interesting secondhand gift for someone than just hitting the 'buy' button on something everyone is getting from Amazon," Piper said.

She said that a tattered, $2 copy of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes from a thrift shop was one of her favorite gifts ever.

"It's kitschy, thoughtful and totally unique," Piper said.

ThredUp Sales
Online thrift retailer ThredUp saw gift card sales jump 103 percent during the first two weeks of December compared to all of November, according to Erin Wallace, vice president of integrated marketing. Above, Samantha Estes prepares garments to be photographed at the ThredUp sorting facility in Phoenix on March 12, 2019. Matt York/AP Photo

Kristi Marquez, 36, in Jupiter, Florida, has two young daughters. She has cut down her gift list from about 20 people to 10 this year after her family opted to buy only for their kids. A good three-quarters of her gifts will be resale items. She used Thriftbooks.com and other book resellers to purchase previously owned titles at deeply discounted prices. Facebook Marketplace and local moms' groups have proven fruitful for toys.

Sometimes, she said, going resale isn't about the environment or saving money, especially this year.

"At the top of our oldest's list is the Magic Mixies Magic Cauldron. At first, I didn't know the toy was so popular and was shocked to see it sold out everywhere, except at more than double the price from resellers on Amazon and Walmart," she said. "After wading through potential scammers, I finally got a hold of one on Poshmark for $99. It's not the eco-friendly toy we'd hoped for and it's still overpriced but we're happy we found the main toy she asked for this year."

The plastic toy, which makes sounds and produces mist after kids create a "potion," retails for $69.99.

As more retailers have added resale as an option, tech middlemen have jumped in to assist. One company, List Perfectly, offers tools for resellers to cross-post their wares on 11 marketplaces.

"Resale doesn't necessarily mean used. A lot of resellers resell new items that are currently scarce as they've planned their inventory for months to accommodate holiday shopping demands," said Clara Albornoz, co-founder and CEO. "Buyers can see a variety of options, easily price compare, shop from their home, get their items quickly and affordably, and delivered straight to them, usually with opportunities to return if there are any issues."

Another company, Recurate, enables brands to create their own resale platforms on their websites.

"Recurate's sales over the Black Friday and Cyber Monday week were over 50 percent higher than average," said Karin Dillie, vice president of partnerships. She said customers are seeking resale items "to satisfy their own deal hunting as well as to purchase as gifts."

Appealing specifically to Gen Z, the resale marketplace Galaxy provides live shows for buyers and sellers to interact in real time. It recently hosted a five-day holiday event involving 40 top sellers.

"By being able to have real time conversations through live video and SMS messaging, sellers and shoppers get to build a relationship. This often leads to sellers becoming trusted curators of your wardrobe and your holiday shopping," said Danny Quick, co-founder and CEO.

Sadie Cherney, a franchise owner with three resale Clothes Mentor boutiques in South Carolina, said resale is a buyer-beware market.

Her tips: Search for items that are new with tags, do your homework on return policies, make sure things like zippers are functional, check for stains and tears, and—perhaps most importantly—decide whether you will tell your gift recipient that you shopped resale.

Kahlil Spurlock, 32, in Jersey City, New Jersey, turned to resale for holiday gifts this year in an effort to reduce his carbon footprint. He used Grailed, a site not unlike The RealReal but focused on menswear.

"I was buying for my 20-year-old brother, who does buy resale," he said. "There are some items that are just so cool, like some streetwear, you can only find on resale."

Spurlock picked up two items from hot brands for his younger sibling.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The RealReal Headquarters
Resale has taken off among some looking to save the planet and spend less on gifts during the most wasteful time of the year--the December holidays. This year's supply chain delays have provided extra motivation. Above, a rack of women's clothing categorized by designer at the headquarters of The RealReal in San Francisco on April 9, 2014. Eric Risberg/AP Photo