Climate-Focused Gen Z Is Driving Growth in Online Secondhand Shopping

A new report by ThredUp shows younger consumers value the sustainability and discounts of resale

A photo with clothes and accessories and text that says '2020 Resale Report'
ThredUp's Resale Report was slated to publish in March, but was delayed after it became clear that the pandemic would shift the company's outlook. ThredUp

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated a move to ecommerce across all industries—and secondhand clothing is no exception, according to a report released today by ThredUp.

Online resale is expected to grow by 23% this year, the report said, and the category is predicted to overtake the traditional thrift and donation segment by 2024.

As the world’s largest online resale website, ThredUp was seeing impressive growth prior to the pandemic, especially among Gen Z and millennial consumers concerned with the sustainability of their purchases. But as Covid-19 upended the world of retail and created a more uncertain economy for shoppers, there was some question as to whether climate change would slip to a lower spot on consumers’ list of priorities.

Gen Z is the most likely category of consumer to buy secondhand clothing.

“I expected people to be like, ‘You know what, climate change is really important, but I’m really focused on my health, my family’s health, my job,'” said ThredUp president Anthony Marino. Instead, an April survey conducted by Global Data for ThredUp’s resale report showed that consumers were just as concerned with the climate as they were prior to the pandemic.

Consumers are showing a “resilience” with respect to their focus on sustainability, said Marino. “They’re keeping that in mind even when times are tough.”

Tighter budgets can lead shoppers to resale independent of their concern for climate change, of course. But the report also showed positive consumer attitudes toward secondhand shopping. Rather than it being something for consumers to feel ashamed about, or an indication of less money, survey respondents said that buying secondhand made them feel good about themselves. Thrifting makes them feel similarly to having adopted a puppy, and opposite of how they feel about participating in fast fashion or buying fast food.

Consumers reported feeling proud to purchase secondhand clothing.

To attract Gen Z shoppers, ThredUp doesn’t really have to shift its marketing strategy much beyond highlighting its main strengths as a service, said Marino. “They’re looking for that value, they’re looking for the freshness, and they’re looking to do it in a way that makes them feel good about it from a sustainability perspective,” he said.

ThredUp also found that brands with a strong commitment to sustainability practices are growing fastest on its site, demonstrating consumers’ loyalty to those values even when buying those brands—like Patagonia, The North Face, Everlane and Reformation—secondhand.

Retailers have also begun to notice the appeal of resale for its consumers, according to the report. Several retail stores, from Banana Republic and Athleta to Walmart and Macy’s, have partnered with ThredUp to promote resale either through their own website, or through store credits in return for donations.

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@klundster Kathryn Lundstrom is Adweek's breaking news reporter based in Austin.