Opinion: Killer Sales

A boom in resale websites has prevented the impoverished from enjoying the benefits of secondhand sales.


Sierra O'Neil

In the digital world, sales and competition are tipping towards online resellers.

By Sierra O'Neil, North Allegheny Senior High School

With clothes old and new now at the touch of a button, “I have nothing to wear!” is a statement rarely uttered by most teenagers.

With the days of scavenging through overflowing sale racks and rummaging in your parents’ closet gone, a new age of digital shopping has arisen. From 2011 to 2021, e-commerce sales multiplied by nearly five times–showing an obvious shift to building a wardrobe online–and now this trend has seeped into the resale market.

The process of reselling gives new life to preloved items from shoes and clothes to valuable antiques.

Reselling is not a new idea; established companies like eBay were founded in 1995, for example. The process of seeking valuable items has been around since as far back as the 1960s with famous events like Round Top in Texas. From environmental concerns to preserving a piece of history, the necessity of the reseal market is hard to dispute.

But now, in the age of easy consumption, sellers have swooped in to take advantage of online shoppers, bagging up trendy items at a low price to upsell them as “vintage.”

From the rise of popular apps like Depop and Poshmark, coupled with a seemingly constant cycle of trends, new websites have created a world filled with overpriced junk, like 90s trends–including low-rise pants to Levis jeans from any decade, especially the 501 style. With a pair of “vintage” Levis starting around $800 on Depop, sellers have jacked up the price of a classic item that is still produced at prices starting at only $98 today.

Of course, some sellers appropriately set high prices. Take collectible items like vintage Dior bags or limited and coveted memorabilia, for example. But widespread upselling has disadvantaged consumers.

The trend of reselling and thrifting was originally fostered by a newfound concern for the environment. In an attempt to save the planet from excessive waste due to the fashion industry (92 million tons of textile waste are produced annually), consumers have steered away from fast fashion and started shopping second-hand.

But from this thoughtful solution for the planet, shocking price hikes and outright scams have arisen. Even so, websites like Depop and eBay stand behind the items sold on their websites.

The real issue with these websites stems not from buyers–it comes from the sellers who are the source of products. Many popular sellers rummage through local thrift stores on a daily basis, grabbing up an item that appears “vintage” and sellable and stripping low-income individuals of affordable and accessible clothing.

While thrift stores are open to the public, the argument persists that even impoverished people still deserve the right to trendy clothing. Due to these overhyped sellers, true thrifters have been left with dirty, old, and overpriced merchandise.

Resellers have created a trickle-down effect that has forced thrift stores to inflate their prices.

While nonprofit corporations such as Goodwill can not escape the inflation of the new decade—levels which rose to 8.3% in April 2022—and must continue to support their local employees and corporate executives, online sellers have no noble intentions. To compete with these aggressive online retailers, Goodwill and other thrift stores have been forced to raise prices.

Goodwill responded to backlash regarding price hikes, stating, “As far as pricing goes, the stores’ profits support Goodwill’s mission – a dedication to providing opportunities to those outside the economic mainstream.”

Resellers do not encourage sustainability—the true purpose of thrifting—instead inspiring a generation to ignore underlying issues for the impoverished. ”

In contrast, upsellers on Depop and Poshmark have no obligation to their community. Their process does not encourage sustainability—the true purpose of thrifting—but instead inspires a generation that submits to overpaying and ignoring underlying issues for the impoverished.

While excessive shopping does take away resources from people in need, resellers contend that it prevents the majority of the world’s 5.7 billion pounds of clothes from ending up in landfills. Depop, eBay, and other resellers argue they are just as entitled to the items at thrift stores as the everyday thrifter. They also say their “flipping business”—buying vintage clothes and selling for a profit—is an ethical business practice needed to survive.

“I can’t speak to the motivations of every seller, but before I list a price, I factor in the 10 percent fee Depop takes, shipping costs, and the time [it] takes to clean, style, and package the garment,” said Sora, a Depop seller.

But while resellers have every right to run a business, when it leads to rampant inequity, their ethics must be called into question.

This story was originally published on The Uproar on February 6, 2023.