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Editorial: ‘Reseller’ is not a bad word
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Editorial: ‘Reseller’ is not a bad word


Challenging the stigma of reselling

Over the past few months, there have been many conversations happening online about the rise of prices at thrift stores.

It’s a trend that’s been well documented in news headlines, and by resellers and consumers on social media (check our Instagram page for some of our pricing-related comment threads).

Most recently, Value Village confirmed two “boutique” locations of its eponymous thrift store will open in downtown Toronto this summer, and another in Vancouver this fall — much to the derision of TikTok users, who lambasted the company for its high prices on donated clothing.

When it comes to resellers’s potential role in the shift, consumer commentary (like in this story from the CBC) ranges from supportive to — unsurprising of online comment threads — vitriolic.

Some have claimed resellers are the main reason for the price hikes, others have said resellers are “rinsing” consumers by charging what they do for secondhand goods.

A vintage market display overflowing with clocks, ceramic and glass vases in every colour, and jewelry.
Photo: Jean Neves/Pexels

First, there are several reasons why prices are climbing — the most recent being that the inflation rate in Canada is at 6.8 per cent. That’s the highest it’s been in 31 years.

But the prices that have been clocked at thrift shops like Value Village and Goodwill are not just a few percentage points higher, adjusted for normal year-over-year price increases or even for current inflation rates. In some cases, the posted sticker price is more than the original, still-attached tag. I address the price trend a bit more below in point #4 below.

Let's challenge the stigma surrounding reselling and discuss the value a reseller brings to the table.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of things to keep in mind about the practice of reselling as we navigate the unfolding debate:

1. “Reseller” isn’t a bad word.

In a conversation with a friend earlier this year, I was chatting about the content I am developing for The Vintage Seeker — stories about sellers, educational information about the vintage and resale industry, informative resources for consumers, best practices for independent resellers.

“‘Best’ practices?” my friend asked. “Why? They have dirty ones?”

They seemed genuinely curious, but the question made me pause. Every industry promotes best practices. Why would vintage and resale be any different? And why did this person automatically equate the idea of resellers with dirty business practices? Why was that the first thing that popped into their mind?

There’s a pervasive trope of the “greedy reseller.” Think Harry Wormwood in the 1988 Roald Dahl book Matilda — a greasy used car salesman who will stop at nothing to make a buck, including manually reversing the miles on the odometer of a car he’s looking to unload.

Not a great association. It should go without saying that this type of behaviour is not representative of an entire group of people.

“Resale” may be a more widely used term these days, but it’s not a new practice. Reselling is what antiques dealers do.

If this same friend of mine were to wander into an antique shop stacked to the rafters with dusty old items waiting to be resold, I doubt they would consider it a “dirty” way of doing business (other than being literally dirty, because dust!).

Online sellers in the lifestyle resale niche have given the practice a lot more visibility, but they’re not doing anything differently than the folks who have been doing this for years — other than knowing how to use social media and buy-and-sell marketplaces to their advantage.

A young brown-haired woman browses vintage clothing racks at a store with painting and figurines visible behind.
Photo: Burst

2. There is plenty of inventory out there.

Let’s keep deconstructing the myth of the “crooked” reseller. There’s the idea that resellers are greedy or “gaming” the system by finding a product and marking it up at a profit. And there’s the idea that resellers are in the business just to make money, or to pillage thrift stores and take everything from people in need.

Generally speaking, resellers do want to make money —  just as much as everyone else does. In this case, they’ve found a market opportunity and are grinding like any other business owner. They are investing the time and labour to find, clean, repair and list their products.

There are ethical implications of shopping at certain thrift stores, such as those situated in low-income neighbourhoods that heavily rely on their thrift-store supply. Resellers need to be aware of where they’re sourcing, item limits and the house rules of each shop they visit.

There will, unfortunately, always be a few who don’t abide by those rules. (This is a much more complex issue than I can represent here. For more point-counterpoint on the gentrification of thrift stores, check out this article on Vox.)

As the Vox article thoroughly examines, there is more than enough product to go around, and then some. Most thrift shops receive more donations than they can process.

The manager of Double Take, a thrift store in downtown Toronto located on the edge of a marginalized neighbourhood, told The Vintage Seeker that there is no shortage of products available for anyone who walks through the door. Double Take has even developed a business model with different price tiers for its various customer segments.

We must look beyond what the average consumer sees as a product’s final resting place on a thrift-shop rack, because the thrift store is only the beginning of a secondhand item’s lifecycle.

There’s a whole supply chain built around thrift stores — and if we want to talk about providing for people in need, we need to also talk about the system that seems to work against making that possible.

According to a 2018 story by CBC News, charities such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army only place half of the donations they receive onto their racks. In the same story, a spokesperson for Value Village said the company sells about 25 per cent of what it buys from clothing-collection charities such as Diabetes Canada.

The Recycling Council of Ontario says the average Canadian discards 37 kilograms of textiles every year. So where does it all go if thrift shops are only selling 25 to 50 per cent of what they get? It gets reprocessed into rags, ground down for use in manufacturing, sent to local landfills, or, largely, baled and shipped to markets in Africa to be sold there.

Except not all of those exports are sold, due to poor quality and sheer volume. A 2018 investigation by ABC News showed that of the 15 million used garments per week delivered to Accra, Ghana from North America, Europe and Australia, 40 per cent wind up in landfill.

The World Economic Forum estimates that the equivalent of one garbage truck filled with clothes is incinerated or dumped in landfill once every second.

One vintage seller, who requested their name be withheld, told The Vintage Seeker that resellers are eager to educate people on this shrouded part of the retail chain, and on the benefits of shopping secondhand.

Resellers are not “greedy mass purchasers who take cartloads away from consumers,” the seller says. “Most are picky, and if the items aren’t pristine, they won’t buy them.”

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3. Resellers are individuals.

“Reseller” is an umbrella term, and not every reseller does the same thing. Some, like the ones we cover on The Vintage Seeker, stick to what I call “lifestyle resale” — secondhand fashion and accessories, home decor, furniture, etc. Some sell antiques or vintage only, some sell a mix of vintage and thrifted items.

But there are also resellers who sell consumer packaged goods. Some resell electronics. Still others resell concert or sports tickets. Some resell what are considered “grey market” goods such as cars or pharmaceuticals.

There are varying degrees of ethics at play within some of these categories. Reselling pharmaceuticals is dangerous. And buying up swaths of concert tickets to resell them at quadruple the list price, while unfortunate for the concert-going consumer, is more a reflection of the system that enables it rather than the individual who has found an opportunity to take advantage of it.

There’s nuance within each niche, too. Some lifestyle resellers source at thrift shops. Many avoid thrift shops altogether — instead, they source from estate sales, friends, private collections, auctions and wholesalers, among other places.

Closeup of hands holding a framed floral portrait in front of a display case.
Photo: Kübra Arslaner/Pexels

In the lifestyle segment, resellers themselves go by many names: resellers, sellers, dealers, vendors, merchants, curators, etc.

“Reseller” seems to be the most commonly used in the online marketplace, and it’s certainly the most apt in describing the occupation — but perhaps it’s not the right term from a consumer perspective if it’s plagued with negative connotations.

Resellers are single parents who sell some secondhand clothes on the side to make ends meet.

Resellers are vintage enthusiasts who can rattle off facts about the design period and influence of every single piece of inventory they move.

Resellers are entrepreneurially minded young people who want to do their part to keep products out of landfill as long as possible.

Resellers are longtime antiques hunters who carefully comb over history books to help find the perfect home for an offbeat treasure.

Resellers are passionate, creative people who sell because they love it, and the extra income is just a bonus.

Resellers are all of these things and more.

But perhaps there is a less loaded term that’s more encompassing of the other operational aspects of the business of flipping vintage or thrifted products. What feels most accurate, equitable and inclusive? Or do we just need to keep working to change the perception of the “reseller”?

4. Reselling is a matter of supply and demand.

Regardless of which category of reseller we are talking about, we live in a free economy. Once you own something, it’s yours to do with as you please. If you decide to resell it, that’s your prerogative.

Anyone who has ever sold anything on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist or a garage sale knows this. In the U.S., it’s called first sale doctrine, meaning that a copyright holder is limited in preventing resale of their goods after the first transaction. Canada doesn’t have a written law regarding first sale, but it is implied through case precedent.

The price at which one sells a secondhand item reflects its value. And the market determines the value. Sometimes, there is consumer expectation that because something is used and has already been purchased once, it should be free or deeply discounted when resold.

But it’s a matter of supply and demand. If the market will pay a certain price for an item based on historical comparative data, a seller will list it at that price.

That’s what “firsthand” retailers do every single day. They receive an item from a manufacturer or a distributor, mark it up and place it on the shelf. (And now, firsthand brands are even opening up their own resale marketplaces that encourage consumers to bring back their items directly to be sold again.)

Many for-profit thrift stores have seen the same resale opportunity and are capitalizing on it by hiking their prices to what they perceive as market value.

That market opportunity may be more visible because of the rise of independent resellers, but blaming resellers for tapping into an existing audience is unwarranted. The opportunity was always there. Resellers just found it first.

Closeup of hands repairing a red enamel light fixture.
Photo: cottonbro studio/Pexels

5. Resellers in the lifestyle niche offer a service.

While some thrift stores have adjusted their prices to match the independent resale market, what they — and the average consumer — might not have considered is that value is determined by the work today’s reseller does. And it’s a lot more than receiving a donated item and throwing it onto a rack.

Resellers bridge product- and service-based business. They criss-cross all over town to hunt for their items. Multiple times a week, usually, in a way that most consumers aren’t committed to doing.

They repair and clean the items for sale, sometimes more than once. They research the history and provenance of the item so they can provide the best information possible to their customers. They disclose defects to customers.

If they’re selling online, there are other activities required to bring those items to the masses, including photographing, marketing, packaging and shipping. If they’re selling in-person, there are overhead costs to contend with, similar to any other storefront.

Above all, resellers are curating an experience that emulates shopping in a store. And that’s true whether you’re a vintage seller whose target market is Millennials and Gen Zs, or an antiques dealer serving a specific niche of collectors. Everything in a reseller’s shop reflects their taste, just like a boutique owner or a gallery curator. It’s fair they should be appropriately paid for their efforts.

Resellers offer more than a pile of products — they share a dream, a moment in time, an aspiration. They care about their customers, they care about their communities and they care about making a positive impact on the retail sector. To say otherwise is to not know them at all.

Do you think “reseller” is an apt word, or does the industry need a new one? Let us know in the comments!

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