3 Ways to Succeed in Second-Hand Online Retail

By: Saima Alibhai

The second-hand market has become a force in British retail. Accounting for 14% of London’s retail establishments, the industry has seen a steady growth of 0.6% per year since 2013, with sales volumes increasing over 5% in 2016.

Here are three ways to succeed in second-hand online retail

  1. Offer a first-class shopping experience
  2. Know your customers
  3. Support a good cause

The financial crises of 2008 has produced a generation of savvy shoppers who relish the opportunity to grab a bargain. From pre-owned iPhones to vintage designer clothes, consumers have become more accepting of second-hand goods. A key factor in the allure of pre-owned items is that, unlike discount retail, the consumers knows what the item was once worth. Second-hand shoppers have an interest in quality, well-made products and often collect items from a certain era or are simply unable to afford the latest model.

High-street retailers, such as Game, CEX and Urban Outfitters, have gradually integrated second-hand items into their retail operations and opened dedicated areas for pre-loved goods in their stores. But despite its increasing adoption by bricks-and-mortar, much of second-hand's growth and popularity is owed to online marketplaces.

The first item ever sold on eBay UK in 1999 was a Scorpions CD for £2.89. Fast-forward to 2017, and the online retailer has launched “The Entertainment Store,” a new platform dedicated to new and pre-owned music, books, films and video games, in direct response to the recent surge in demand for new and pre-owned vinyl records. 

Many of the established second-hand brands started their business through eBay and took the classic retail journey in reverse, establishing themselves first online and then using physical stores as an additional sales channel to broaden their footprint.

One of the most prominent examples is US vintage fashion retailer Nasty Gal. But the rise and fall of the former fashion darling, which was taken over by Boohoo in February 2017 after going bankrupt, also shows that the business has its pitfalls. So how can second-hand retailers set up their business for success?

Offer a First-Class Shopping Experience

Finding ways to differentiate yourself and enhance the shopping experience is critical in terms of keeping customers engaged. You must stay close to customers and offer them a memorable shopping experience both online and in-store to successfully secure sales.

Pre-owned watches, jewellery and designer handbags retailer Xupes has successfully developed a shopping experience that doesn’t feel second-hand at all. With a customer base that includes first-time buyers, as well as collectors and even celebrities, the omnichannel retailer strives to offer the same experience as a traditional luxury retailer, not that of a pawn shop. From offering an in-house watch servicing centre and a 24-month warranty to next-day delivery for online orders and a glass of champagne for in-store shoppers, the only difference to a traditional luxury retailer that the customer will notice is the price.

Going one step further, consider linking your online and bricks-and-mortar operations to deliver a true omnichannel experience. Equipping in-store sales assistants with information on a customer’s purchase and online browsing history combined with current inventory details and trending products enables them to deliver a highly personalised shopping experience and successfully guide the customer to make a purchase.

Know Your Customers

Personalisation has evolved far beyond addressing customers by name. The ability to use segmentation to target the right customer with the most relevant content and provide an experience specific to an individual’s needs is important.

Even simple segmentation, such as sending different offers to male and female customers, allows you to offer additional value and achieve more personal, higher performing email campaigns. For more sophisticated personalisation, create emails for each individual segment with subject lines, content and calls to action that speak directly to the subscribers in that group.

musicMagpie provides its 4 million customers with an innovative and hassle-free way to trade in their media for cash. The retailer aims to take as many of the tasks involved in selling an item off their shoulders as possible. A key component of its strategy is the valuation engine, which offers customers a quick way to get an offer for the items they are planning to sell.

The only piece of information the engine needs is either the weight of the goods, if a customer wants to sell LEGO, or the barcode, if it’s a media item such as a DVD or CD. At the push of a button, it then comes up with a price. The software behind the tool was developed in-house and is based on a series of algorithms as well as the company’s stock file. It recognises 12.5 million entertainment barcodes and factors in sales patterns as well as external influences like the weather.

Support a Good Cause

Commercial success goes hand in hand with corporate social responsibility, so think about ways how your business can give something back to society. British vintage fashion retailer Beyond Retro recently launched an innovative campaign that has the dual purpose of increasing profitability while supporting a good cause: the organ donor price tag.

In the campaign, the second-hand chain not only brings new life to clothes but also to the people who wear them by making it easier for them to become organ donors. It has turned the price tags on its clothes into valid organ donor cards, encouraging people to fill in their details and carry the card in their wallet. The campaign created a lot of buzz and was widely featured in the media and on social media.


The second-hand market shows little sign of slowing down. Depreciation has made consumers more cost-conscious – bagging a bargain won't lose its thrill anytime soon. But the UK is a competitive market, and the growth of external competitors such as pound shops and fast-fashion retailers is set to continue.

A focus on service, convenience and personalisation will be key to lasting success in the pre-owned market. And by giving back to the community you will not only win over your customer’s cash but also their hearts.


By Saima Alibhai, Managing Principal Consultant EMEA, Oracle + Bronto

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