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An explanation of the term recommerce. What is recommerce and why is it of growing significance?
4 Mins

What is recommerce?

Ben Smith
Ben Smith

We’ve all heard of e-commerce – the technical term for the buying and selling of goods online – but what is recommerce?

In a nutshell, it’s the second-hand market. And it’s growing quickly. As with all things retail, the increase online is happening at break-neck speed.

Traditionally, the second-hand market was the preserve of charity shops, jumble sales and car boot sales, or if you’re lucky and live in a trendy inner-city warehouse conversion, a specialist vintage clothing store.

Yes, they are all still available, but today those in the know head online for their second-hand bargains, the recommerce sector as it’s known. And it’s no longer looked down upon, leading to the establishment of mainstream business eager to tap into the thrifty market which in turn lead to a huge increase in the market. And lo, the recommerce industry was born.

Just look at all online sales for a second. In January 2021, according to the Office of National Statistics, almost 40% of everything bought in the UK was bought online. That’s the highest it’s ever been. And while it dipped during the summer of 2021 when the high street was, briefly, reopened after the covid lockdown, it looks likely to be back up to a similar percentage for this winter – the ONS will be releasing the latest data any day now.

That figure is matched by our own statistics here at William George where we saw a huge rise in the number of people visiting our site. We saw an increase of more than 80% of unique users in 2020 compared with 2019. Now, that figure isn’t entirely down to national and international trends – we continue to strive to improve what we do so we would have seen an increase anyway – but the coronavirus pandemic, a growing interest in the second-hand market and auctions generally has really boosted numbers.

So, what of the second-hand market? Well, that’s seen an astonishing rise in recent years too. A recent survey in the United States, comparing different generations’ shopping habits, found that about half of shoppers, no matter their age, at least considered buying second-hand when they were browsing. When you consider that almost half of all sales in January 2021 were online, if half of that figure were thinking about buying second-hand – that’s a big market. The experts predict this trend to continue.

But what’s driving this interest in recommerce?

Since the headiest of consumer days in the 1980s the recommerce market has been steadily growing. It really exploded into our lives in the mid-to-late 90s with the arrival of the internet and it has never looked back.

Now though it is reaching a bit of a heyday and that is being driven by the increased awareness of sustainability. Fashion, one of the biggest energy consumers and producers of waste, has seen a startling change in shopping habits. In recent years, shoppers began buying items with the intention of wearing them barely a handful of times before disposing of them. That’s been met by an enormous outcry at the amount of waste it’s generating, further inflating the recommerce market.

With electricals and white goods, we’ve all perhaps been a bit more aware of their impact on the environment, particularly with the use of precious and rare metals to power our tiny gadgets. But here too we’re seeing an increase in sales. The increasing trend of people fixing broken electricals is also reflected in recommerce, with many shoppers prepared or even seeking out broken item for repairs or spares.

Thanks to campaigns from the likes of Greta Thunberg and Leonardo DiCaprio we’re all much more aware of the need to protect the planet. But we all need and desire new (to us) things – it’s in our very nature. And so people are turning to recommerce – both to purchase and to sell. Because once we’ve finished with it, often there’s no reason why it can’t be sold on to be enjoyed anew. That’s a win-win – save the planet and save your pennies too.

And of course, that’s where William George comes in. Recommerce comes in many forms, including ex-display, retail returns and good old fashioned pre-loved items being sold on by someone having a clear out.

Many people are taking advantage of the buoyancy in recommerce and are creating a business out of it, which you can see in the number of auctions we have here.

From major chains selling returned stock, to new businesses selling pre-loved or vintage goods, there is something here for everyone.

Want to see more? Head over to our live auctions now.