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The rise of the second-hand market

Ben Smith
Ben Smith

There has been a huge increase in the popularity of the second-hand market in recent years. Even before Covid struck, more and more people were turning to pre-loved purchases, whether that was clothing, vintage furniture or simply someone else’s unwanted purchase.

It’s been driven by several factors – firstly a growing awareness of environmental issues. David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and dozens of others have shone a very bright light on waste, especially plastic rubbish polluting our seas. Buying second-hand is a great way for everyone to cut down on waste – the seller isn’t adding to landfill and the buyer isn’t using up precious resources to create something new.

The pandemic has also thrown the second-hand market into sharp relief. People were stuck at home, many on furlough, staring at their own four walls and decided to declutter – a trend already on the up thanks to Netflix’s Tidying Up with Marie Kondo and capitalised on by the BBC with Stacey Solomon’s Sort Your Life Out and Channel 5’s version, The Big House Clearout with Nick Knowles.

Those de-clutterers had a captive market, with a plenty of bored shoppers looking for a bargain.

And of course, many of us have been nervous about the future of the economy and have tightened our belts accordingly, turning to the second-hand market to find a bargain.

A global supply-chain problem, exacerbated by the pandemic but already struggling, has also made newly made products harder to come by. The market for used cars has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of this particular problem, with record prices being set for these vehicles.

So, what’s dominating the second-hand market?

Clothing has seen a huge surge in growth, driven by strong criticism of the culture of fast fashion. Even before the pandemic struck this was a key sector for second-hand purchasers. In fact, one study suggested shoppers under 30 were buying at least half of all their clothes this way.

Savvy retailers, particularly in the US, have been tapping into that growing trend for selling on pre-loved items by openly advertising resale values on new lines. It also has the added benefit of boosting their green credentials.

As already mentioned, used cars have increased in value but interest in all things second-hand has gone up, particularly during the past couple of years. One major car retailer said some nearly-new cars are selling for more than the new models, while many second-hand vehicles are selling within 5 per cent of the new sale price.

People looking for a new hobby, or DIY enthusiasts hoping to pick up a home improvement bargain – have all made the most of the second-hand market.

Where to buy?

Charity shops were the original bastions of the second-hand market for clothing if that’s your thing, or if you’re lucky you’ll have a good local vintage store but for sheer volume of choice, online auction houses and marketplaces lead the way in driving the second-hand market.

Here at William George we experienced an explosion in website visitors when the first lockdown hit and the increased interest in our auctions continues. Here you’ll find countless sales of all manner of second-hand goods, from rare jewellery and watches through to plant and machinery.

You’ll also find some amazing big brand bargains in our regular retail returns sales. If it’s green credentials prompting you to turn to the used market then this area is ideal. Here retailers are selling off returns rather than sending them to landfill and they offer money-making opportunities for the right buyers as well as purchasing for personal use.

We’ve got some big-name retailers selling off stock, in various condition. Look out for pallets of raw returns for the big discounts. This is stock that’s been unchecked after it was returned by a customer to a store – it might have been used once before the consumer realised they had made a mistake. Or it could be completely unused. Or it could need a part replacing or some fixing. But if you pick up a £500 laptop for just £100 that needs a £50 repair job, you’re still quids in. And it’s better for the planet.

There’s also graded stock, so you know what category of condition the goods are in. Again, some of this is as good as new, others are for repairs or spares but you’ll know before you bid.

So go on, take a look at our live auctions and treat yourself to something new (to you!).