Depop and Poshmark used resale is getting cutthroat

The Depop app on a smartphone arranged on Wednesday, June 2, 2021.

Gabby Jones | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Six months after launching his second-hand store on Depop digital marketplace in 2020, Blake Robertson, then a 15-year-old high school student, received a death threat from a customer.

It came via Instagram from a person who didn’t receive her purchase by Christmas.

“Nothing happened, but I don’t know, it just opened my eyes to the fact that some people just really want their stuff,” Robertson said.

Demand for reselling used items has skyrocketed since the early days of the pandemic, sparking a cultural shift in the independent markets where it all began. Clients, many of whom have felt the pressure of inflation, are pushing for lower prices, leading to tighter negotiations and sometimes ruthless bargaining.

Meanwhile, independent resellers are turning their disposable turn a hobby into a job, sometimes even selling products to take advantage of surges in demand. Users of platforms such as Depop and Poshmark are opening online stores to list vintage, used or unique items for sale and generate a noticeable number of loyal customers.

Robertson, now 17, says the growth in reselling has allowed him to turn his Depop store, which now has over 19,000 subscribers, into a side job. He told CNBC that he juggles his reselling job while attending high school.

Blake Robertson, 17, poses with his closet, part of which is up for resale at his Depop store.

Credit: Blake Robertson

He’s used to random hate messages or multi-day one-point talks. More than anything, he was pleasantly surprised by the growing reach of his store, which used to serve his friends as regular customers.

“I’m getting these messages from complete strangers and it makes me wonder how much this app has really grown,” said Robertson.

Back and forth

Of course, death threats against resellers are not the norm. Bo Abington, 49, says she’s had “really fantastic, phenomenal clients” overall.

But she’s also noticed that more buyers are looking for great deals, and she’s been offended by recent offers for her products that are sometimes less than half of her asking price.

“There is definitely a price consciousness that hasn’t always been there,” Abington said.

Some 53% of people surveyed in an October 2022 Depop survey of more than 2,000 UK consumers said they are turning more to secondhand shopping to save money as the cost of living rises. The result, sellers say, is more frequent negotiations and increased price wars.

“There are a lot more negotiations going on. I would say even in the last year it has skyrocketed for me,” said Josephine Munro, 27, a Depop salesperson with over 30,000 followers. She opened her store five years ago and decided to make it a full-time job after graduating from college in 2020 when demand for online reselling surged.

Then there are the de facto bidding wars. Munroe recalls buying an item on Depop only to have the seller cancel the order after realizing another customer was willing to pay more. Other Depop buyers say this is not uncommon.

“This is completely separate from actual purchases because it will never happen in a store,” Munro said. “I think people have become very comfortable with all of this.”

Bo Abington, 49, models some of her Depop pieces.

Credit: Bo Abington

Platforms like Depop and Poshmark rely on the competitive consumer zeitgeist.

Last January, Depop launched a new “Make an offer” option – a feature that simplified the negotiation process, which used to take place in an informal setting through direct messages. Resellers say that with the new button, it has become more convenient for customers to bargain.

“The offer feature on Depop definitely created a new dynamic in terms of being chased by lowballers and also the expectation that things would sell cheap,” said Pascal Davies, 28, who runs a Depop store with 59,000 followers.

But Depop has yet to establish an official function for bidding — just like the original reseller. eBay, offers. According to users, Depop also closed the comment sections on product pages where customers asked questions and sometimes argued.

“We’ve found that product comments don’t directly help shoppers make decisions,” a Depop spokesperson told CNBC when asked about the change.

It’s getting bigger

In September, Poshmark launched “Gorgeous Shows” which allows sellers to run live auctions to sell and promote their inventory.

Stephanie Dionne, 44, who has been selling at Poshmark for about two years, says the live performances are “all kinds of crazy and chaotic,” creating a fast-paced and relentless sales environment.

“When it comes to live performances, people will kind of steal it from under you at the last second,” she said.

Since launching a used goods market with her two sisters, Dion’s business has gotten bigger and bigger — so much so that one of her sisters cut her full-time part-time job to focus on the Poshmark store.

Last year, the Dionnes made between $4,000 and $5,000 in profits. In just a couple of months this year, they have already surpassed that.

But now retailers like Dionnes are competing not only with peers like Poshmark and Depop, but also with big retailers like Target And H&M trying to cash in on the resale boom.

Last week, H&M announced its latest collaboration with a consignment online retailer. ThredUpwhich will now cross-list about 30,000 used clothing items on the H&M website. Target launched several of its own ThredUp partnerships, and etsy bought Depop back in 2021. In January of this year, Poshmark was acquired by South Korean web giant Naver.

But some independent resellers doubt that the unique, curated independent resale experience can scale.

“While bigger companies are trying to fill that space, I think they are missing the mark when it comes to the personal element of vintage,” Finn Thomas, London-based Depop salesman, told CNBC.

“Part of the allure of buying vintage is the one-on-one communication between buyer and seller, the unique story behind each item, and the general curation of the store, which I don’t see with bigger companies like H&M.” Thomas added.

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