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NRF 2023: J.Crew Launch Shows Resale ‘Isn’t Junk, It’s Personal’

2023 is shaping up to be the year of used, with the resale revolution accelerating with each passing day. J. Crew on Tuesday launched its new initiative, J. Crew Always, with ThredUp, where customers can buy and resell pre-owned, good-condition J. Crew items and then receive J. Crew shopping credit for the items sold.

And resale was a prominent theme throughout the National Retail Federation (NRF) Retail’s Big Show, where several experts highlighted the resale sector’s many upsides.

Lee Peterson, executive vice president, thought leadership and marketing, at design services company WD Partners and Seana Strawn, head of retail design and home furnishing identity at Ikea U.S., discussed how retailers leverage resale to attract foot traffic.

Barruch Ben-Zekry, founder and CEO of used outdoor gear marketplace Out&Back, cited three advantages of operating resale in a store environment. Not only can resale consumers get paid immediately for dropping off pre-owned goods, he said, but stores remain a key acquisition channel and they “simultaneously drive traffic.”

Ikea’s customer data, for example, shows some customers visit stores just to shop resale products, then ultimately buy more, resulting in the bigger basket size every retailer wants, Peterson said.

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“At Ikea, we’ve had a resale area for many years,” Strawn said. “The fact is, we’ve seen people lined up outside of our resale area to be…that first person to be able to shop the product. And the fact is that they don’t just buy resale, they stay in the store and they buy non-resale as well. So it’s absolutely a traffic driver and an increase to basket.”

When WD Partners asked roughly 2,500 consumers why they shop used products and resale, price (74 percent) was the priority for most. But people also said they like the “interesting merchandise” available through resale programs (47 percent), described the experience as fun (34 percent), and believe its good for the environment (30 percent). Another 10 percent cited all of those reasons. Approximately 71 percent of respondents shop, buy, sell or trade used products at least once a month, with 38 percent doing one of the above at least once a week. For 33 percent, at least half of their actual purchases over the last year were used, resold or vintage. Roughly 84 percent said at least a quarter of their purchases were used, resold or vintage.

“This is a really interesting shift with looking at resale,” Strawn said. “It’s not junk. It’s actually personal.”

Ikea has seen a 218 percent increase in items bought and sold since launching a buyback program, Strawn said. Customers who want to participate go online and get quotes for the product they want to sell back to the Swedish home goods giant, bring it to a store and get paid for it. Ikea then does any necessary refurbishment in-house and resells it.

“Resale is definitely going to increase traffic, I don’t think there’s a question about it,” Peterson said. “We all need to start thinking about how we’re going to get this done. Fail fast and get it going.”

Lee Peterson, executive vice president, thought leadership and marketing, WD Partners, at The NRF Retail's Big Show
Lee Peterson, executive vice president, thought leadership and marketing, WD Partners Jason Dixson Photography

And it’s not just Ikea and home furnishings seeing success in resale and buyback programs.

Many retailers are now collecting lightly used products from consumers and selling them in their stores or online. These efforts can significantly reduce environmental impact, generate additional sales, and attract new shoppers. Brian Ehrig, a partner at global management consulting firm Kearney, steered a conversation with executives from apparel brands weighing in on how to execute a successful resale model.  

“If you look to analyst reports out there, you won’t necessarily find a consensus around how big resale is going to be, but everybody agrees that it’s going to be large,” Ehrig said. “According to Morningstar, resale should hit $300 billion by 2031, and it’s growing at three times the rate of the primary market. And if you’re in retail today, probably everybody would be very happy to get something that’s growing double-digits.”

So, what does it take to do that? For Sarah LaFleur, founder and CEO of women’s clothing company M.M.LaFleur, recruiting experts with proven expertise is key.

“We got approached by our partner, Archive. They came to us and said, ‘Hey, we’re looking for our first client, we want to do this resale white-labeling site, would you guys want to partner with us.’ And we said ‘yes, absolutely’,” LaFleur said. “It’s a peer-to-peer resale model that we launched under the name of Second Act…in 2021.”

For Madewell, resale was a natural segue for a brand that prioritizes sustainability. In 2014, the J.Crew Group company launched a denim recycling program where anyone can drop off a pair of jeans, Madewell or not, and receive a $20 credit toward a new Madewell pair. The label partnered with Habitat for Humanity to recycle donated jeans into housing installation. In 2019, Madewell piloted a resale popup in Brooklyn. In 2021, it partnered with ThredUp and launched Madewell Forever, becoming the platform’s first resale-as-a-service partner to stand up a fully circular model where customers can clean out denim in Madewell stores and shop secondhand Madewell in stores and online. Sister brand J. Crew’s resale launch, J.Crew Forever, is an iteration of the same experience.

“During the Madewell experience we really learned a lot,” Liz Hershfield, senior vice president and head of sustainability for J. Crew Group and senior vice president of sourcing for Madewell, said. “It took us a couple of years to actually get the programming and find the right partner and figure out the business model. We were lucky [with J. Crew] because we already had the infrastructure down.” 

And similar to the success Ikea has seen with its increased basket sizes, M.M.LaFleur has seen its secondhand program spur broader growth.  

“I’ve had other people who run resale organizations say, doesn’t it just take away from your top line sales of new products, and I’ve actually found the opposite to be true,” LaFleur said. “Seventy percent of our customers who sell something on Second Act—they have the option to check out with cash, but we give them a tiny bonus if they are willing to check out with credit—and 70 percent of the customers use that and then they go and spend roughly quadruple that amount that they had redeemed. So let’s say they sell their dress for $70, then they come to the site and spend $280, so that’s a pretty big step up there.” 

For retailers looking to enter the resale market, Hershfield says companies should have clear expectations about what they hope to get out of it.

“I think when you’re thinking about resale, especially coming from a larger company, you have to think about why you want to do it. And I think that then gives you the focus, because it can go in a bunch of different ways,” she said. “When we launched we were really focused on circularity and sustainability and that was our main—we obviously see it as opportunity [from a] business perspective—but we’re really trying to grow the infrastructure and get the word out [that] this is the right thing to do for the planet, to encourage our customers to turn in their products and buy for resale.”