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As Retail Struggles, the Online Resale Market Is Booming

From Sotheby's to The RealReal, the pandemic has set the secondary market on fire.

The RealReal, Sotheby's, Vestiaire Collective, Christie's The RealReal, Sotheby's, Vestiaire Collective, Christie's

For some, lockdown has spurred a supercharged spring clean, unearthing long-forgotten designer treasures. For others, it’s freed up the cash from a canceled holiday to burn on a six-figure piece of bling at auction. At the other end of the spectrum, and more poignantly, it’s brought the need to liquidate wardrobe assets in an effort to make ends meet. These are just a few of the many reasons why the luxury resale market has been booming since coronavirus struck.

Pre-loved fashion titan Vestiaire Collective has noted an increase of 44 percent of new listings to their site over the past month. In particular, they have seen a shift in members selling and buying more accessible items priced below $500. Demand for moderately-priced ready-to-wear brands (known in the biz as “contemporary”) like Staud, Ganni and Reformation has dramatically spiked, and it’s fast becoming one of their best-selling categories. Additionally, perennial staples like timeless handbags and perpetually in-demand luxury pieces have been stable. Marquee designs such as J’Adore Dior jewelry and Fendi Baguettes have emerged as some of their fastest-selling models.

A Fendi Baguette and J'Adior jewel, two of Vestiaire's fastest-selling styles.

A Fendi Baguette and J’Adior jewel, two of Vestiaire Collective’s fastest-selling styles.  Vestiaire Collective

“While stuck at home, we’ve seen a lot of our members using this time to clean out their closets and make extra income. We’ve had one of our strongest months in terms of orders and new buyers,” says Vestiaire president Fanny Moizant. “Covid has shifted spending habits. Consumers are reassessing their consumption habits. Many are considering the amount of clothing they purchase and are thinking critically about how to enjoy fashion more sustainably. We’ve also seen that consumers are becoming increasingly resourceful and see this as an opportunity to detox their wardrobes from pieces they no longer wear to generate additional funds.”

This is echoed at The RealReal, another resale company that’s nimbly adapted to the new climate. Their efforts include accelerating the schedule of product curation to promote pieces typically touted later in the season (knowing that shoppers expect shipping delays and may be shopping sooner) and, in lieu of the wedding and event outfits they’d usually be spotlighting at this time of year, transitioning the focus to make sense for what people need while living in lockdown. Cue attention-grabbing earrings for Zoom calls and WFH fits combining business tops and loungewear bottoms. Silk scarves—particularly those by Hermès, Gucci and Chanel—have increased 24 percent year over year, newly coveted as haute face coverings.


An ombre lizard Birkin purse by Hermès set the record for any handbag sold at auction.

An ombre lizard Birkin purse by Hermès set the record for any handbag sold at auction.  Sotheby's

The big bucks, however, have been reserved for online auctions. In March, traffic to Sotheby’s website increased 16 percent. Even more gawk-worthy are the stratospheric results: they broke the record for any online jewelry sale ($3.7 million at the April 7 Fine Jewels sale). One superlative Art Deco bracelet in Cartier’s signature Tutti Frutti style fetched $1.34 million on April 28, setting the record for any single piece of jewelry ever sold in an online sale and the highest price for any jewel sold at auction so far in 2020. Sotheby’s also set a record for any online watch auction with their Patek Philippe Nautilus (sold for $484,788 on April 15) and handbags, thanks to an Hermès ombre lizard Birkin ($137,500 on March 20).

The Patek Philippe Nautilus that fetched a record sum at Sotheby's.

The Patek Philippe Nautilus that fetched a record sum at Sotheby’s.  Sotheby's

Similarly, Christie’s has noted a surge of interest: “Encouraged by record online participation and the increased level of transaction, Christie’s Jewels has enhanced its online sales calendar to include higher value property and to offer a new sale each month,” says Aline Sylla-Walbaum, international business director of Christie’s Luxury Group. The auction house’s June Online sale will be led by a spectacular diamond ring of 28.86 carats with an estimate of $1,000,000-2,000,000, the highest-valued lot ever offered in an online-only sale at Christie’s. In terms of specifics, they have seen the most engagement for signed jewels and properly certified stones. Technology has also played a large part as photo quality has risen and capabilities such as a 3D view and video have enhanced how objects can be viewed virtually.

Whether you’re looking to buy or sell, it’s never been a better time for fashion’s secondary market.

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