Thrift shopping has been around for ages: from fundraising ministries to extremely profitable businesses. Goodwill stores had been considered more like high-functioning department stores in the early 1920’s. Today, thrift shopping isn’t as great a necessity as it was during the Industrial Revolution or the Great Depression. There is no shortage of clothing – cheap or expensive. Instead, secondhand shopping has become rather trendy.  

Recent CivicScience data show that 29% of U.S. adults say they shop for used clothing and accessories, while a total of 39% have experience buying secondhand (n=2,681). The percentage of used clothing shoppers has fluctuated over the last few years between 28% (September 2020) and 25% (June 2021). Not only is the percentage of secondhand clothing shoppers at a comparatively high point, but the number of people who intend to shop secondhand has increased too.

Why People Buy Used Clothing

Getting more bang for one’s buck is still the primary incentive for the majority of consumers shopping secondhand – 60% of thrifters say they shop secondhand to save money. Thirty percent choose to shop used in order to find specific vintage items or unique styles. While shopping secondhand clothing can greatly reduce carbon emissions released into the environment, the environmental footprint is a primary incentive for only 21% of shoppers (n=1,545).

Income data illustrate a unique picture of how consumers find their used goods. Lower-income families practice thrifting at a much higher rate than households making $100K or more per year, but online thrifting is just as popular (if not more so) among higher-income earners.

Online Thrifting – Has It Peaked?

The usage of online secondhand marketplaces (like thredUP or Poshmark) has increased since early 2020, but further adoption appears to be slowing. As of CivicScience’s most recent data, 23% of U.S. adults familiar with online clothing resale sites have used them, up from 15% in 2020. However, 9% intend to shop for used clothes online in the future, down from 11% in 2022. Furthermore, data show online thrifting is most common among people aged 18-34, although a surprising 10% of people 55 and older have used online resale marketplaces.

H&M’s Partnership With thredUP Holds Promise

Despite concern for the environment being lower on the list of major reasons people shop for used clothing, the green movement is an ever-present force in the world of retail. For instance, fast-fashion – the process of quickly and cheaply churning out stylish merchandise with lower-quality materials – has been criticized by many. Some environmental organizations argue that the fast-fashion market creates a significant amount of waste for consumers, their wardrobes, their wallets, and in their trash bins. 

Popular fast-fashion retailer H&M recently partnered with thredUP, likely to combat any negative effects of its business model while also providing brand name clothing to consumers at an even lower price. And the pairing has all the right indications of being successful: according to CivicScience data, 44% of consumers who are favorable H&M have used online secondhand marketplaces, and 18% intend to use them.

But, given the fact that higher-income individuals are buying through sites like thredUP, it will be interesting to see whether or not spotlighting H&M will actually get more of the brand’s clothes sold and reduce its environmental footprint, or if it will simply boost its brand perception and corporate reputation.

Secondhand shopping is a strong retail practice among consumers of varying ages and income levels. More people may turn to thrifting due to price and inflation concerns today. While safeguarding the environment isn’t the strongest selling point for folks shopping for used clothing, it sure doesn’t discourage people from doing so.

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