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The rise of recommerce: circular and sustainable retail

The retail landscape is undergoing a seismic shift driven by the booming recommerce market. This trend, encompassing activities such as reselling, renting and repairing goods has experienced significant growth – 16 times faster than traditional retail. This growth shows no signs of slowing, with the European recommerce market projected to surge by an estimated 60%, reaching €120 billion (approximately £101.2 billion) by 2025. 

What is recommerce?

Simply put, recommerce, short for ‘reverse commerce’, involves the buying and selling of previously owned items, encompassing a wide range of products – from clothing and jewellery, to technology and furniture – in new, used, refurbished or recycled conditions. Platforms like eBay are pioneers in the C2C (consumer-to-consumer) recommerce space. However, the trend is also encouraging major B2C (brand-to-consumer) retailers, including Asos, H&M and IKEA, to launch recommerce initiatives, allowing them to cater to evolving customer priorities.

Reports suggest this shift is largely driven by younger generations, with 70% of Gen Z buyers stating that sustainability is a key factor when making a purchase. However, recommerce is more than just a new shopping trend; it’s a transformative force that could reshape the entire retail ecosystem. 

Recommerce is also fuelled by regulations like the European Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which compels retailers to adopt responsible practices. While transitioning to a more sustainable, circular retail model presents challenges, Deloitte reports that this shift also unlocks significant growth opportunities for businesses that embrace ethical and sustainable practices.

Below, we’ll delve deeper into the drivers behind this surge in recommerce and explore its impact on the circular economy and the future of retail careers.

The rise of the recommerce market

The sustainability movement is gaining momentum, with online searches for eco-friendly products rising by 71% globally in the past five years. However, for many consumers, the pursuit of sustainable practices clashes with the reality of rising prices. Sustainable goods often come with a hefty markup, averaging 75-80% more than traditional options, often surpassing shopper budgets.

With this considered, recommerce is a perfect storm for many shoppers, as it:

  • Stops sought-after items from becoming landfill waste, whilst saving money compared to the recommended retail price 
  • Makes otherwise unattainable high-quality, designer and luxury items more attainable due to their lower price points. Deloitte predicts that recommerce will be a major trend in the luxury retail market for 2024
  • Allows shoppers to find unique, vintage or deadstock items.

Beyond its appeal to consumers, recommerce is proving to be a smart business strategy.  Expected to evolve from a mere sustainability initiative to a core profit driver, recommerce is demonstrating its financial viability. Take Vinted, the popular second-hand clothing marketplace, which recently reported its first profitable year since launching in 2008, with a revenue increase of 61% in 2023, totalling €596.3 million (£509 million). Similarly, Selfridges (UK) has announced it wants half of its transactions to be from resale, repair or refills by 2030. 

How global retailers are embracing recommerce 

In our recent interview with Robin Kiziak, Financial Controller at VF Corporation (owner of brands such as Dickies, The North Face and Vans), he shed light on the industry’s significant shift towards a more sustainable, circular model;

“In fashion in particular, we’re moving [away] from that linear [mode] of producing something then it getting thrown away – that waste economy – to a more circular economy. What can we, as I’m told in the olden days, repair, reuse, recycle… how can we implement that now?”

Kiziak pinpoints the returns process as a major sustainability hurdle. By implementing solutions such as improved sizing guides, VF Corporation aims to limit the number of returns received at their distribution centres. This in turn translates to less packaging waste and reduced CO2 emissions from transportation. Clearly, effective communication plays a crucial role in achieving this goal.

Influencing consumer behaviour 

Recommerce platforms like Vinted and the emerging phenomenon of livestream shopping both drive user interaction and foster community building. However, a few key factors also set the two approaches apart and perhaps the most polarising is the behaviour they encourage. 

Livestream shopping thrives on impulsivity. Feeding dopamine responses by tactically promoting limited-time deals and discounts, it turns significant profits from quick transactions (in one case, £5.8 billion within 30 minutes).

Recommerce instead takes a much slower pace, emphasising the importance of mindful purchasing. These brands continuously reinforce a focus on their ethics and values; analysing their environmental impact and explaining how retail consumer’s actions can support a sustainable goal.

The evolving retail skillset 

As consumer demand for a circular and sustainable retail experience intensifies and the retail ecosystem continues to evolve, a broader skill set has become essential to thrive in this changing environment. While core areas like product knowledge, sales techniques and inventory management remain crucial, recommerce demands a new level of expertise:

Data analysis & pricing strategies: Recommerce platforms leverage data to optimise pricing and product visibility. Understanding data analysis tools and developing data-driven pricing strategies are valuable assets.

Customer engagement for pre-owned goods: Building trust and addressing customer concerns about pre-owned products requires effective communication and customer service tailored to the recommerce market.

Sustainability Knowledge: An understanding of circular economy principles, the environmental benefits of recommerce, and the ability to communicate these to customers are valuable differentiators.

In short, we’re interested to see how recommerce will further shape the retail market and job landscape in the future. For now, whether you’re searching for your next retail industry position, looking to hire, or would like to discuss recent trends in the UK job market, contact us today.


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