The second-hand market: what consumers really want to buy

The market for bargains is booming, fuelled by the economy, ethical buying and ease of purchase online. But research shows age and gender both impact on what consumers want from their bargain basements.

A third of consumers are buying more second-hand items than they were 12 months ago and more women are happy to rummage through vintage or used items than men, according to new research shown exclusively to Marketing Week.

Thirty five per cent of women and 25 per cent of men say they are buying more used products than new compared with 12 months ago, according to a study by Global Market Insite (GMI).

GMI European marketing director Ralph Risk says: “There will always be a strong second-hand market because people are looking at how they maximise their return on income and it’s now such an established marketplace. Sites like eBay and Amazon, where you can buy these products online, are strong in themselves and they will always be looking at how they can maximise sales.”

At least seven in 10 shoppers have purchased second-hand books, and DVDs and CDs are also popular. Women are more likely to buy different types of second-hand items, in particular books, adult clothing, accessories, jewellery and shoes, while men are more likely to buy DVDs and CDs.

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Sue Ryder Care has more than 400 charity shops, which raise money to improve health and social care across the UK. Retail director Dana Curry says: “The research is reflective of traditional patterns. Our average shopper is female and apart from buying ladieswear, they buy a proportion of the menswear. We find, as in the research, that men tend to buy CDs and books and we shape the layout of our shops along those lines.”

Those aged 25 to 64 are the most likely to have purchased second-hand books and furniture. Since similar research was carried out in 2009, people are also buying more second-hand CDs and DVDs, an increase of 8 per cent and 7 per cent respectively.

The rise is causing an issue for retailers selling these items new, particularly on the high street.

“Buying CDs and DVDs second-hand is a nice fit because you do not need to test them or try them on. It’s another avenue for customers,” says Risk. “High street retailers have many challenges that they are overcoming in terms of getting people into stores, so when people find the convenience of shopping at home and money-saving in second-hand, it puts a lot of pressure on the high street.”

Risk believes mainstream shops are still important because they offer an experience for customers, as long as retailers ensure they are engaging with the purchase. However, in the current economic climate, people will always look to save money. Indeed, not only are they buying used goods they are also sharing products they already own.

The channels and reasons for choosing used items differ by age group and gender. Charity shops are the most popular offline destination for second-hand shopping. Almost seven in 10 (67 per cent) have bought items in a charity shop and they are more popular with women than men.

The older the respondent, the more likely they are to have purchased used items in charity and second-hand shops.


Ebay is the most popular place to buy second-hand items online. However, older respondents are less likely to purchase online: 26 per cent of those aged 55 to 64 compared with 7 per cent of 18- to 24-year olds. Meanwhile, garage or car boot sales are most popular with almost all age groups.

Of those who buy online, over two-thirds are attracted by being able to shop from home, 54 per cent say it is easy and 54 per cent cite the variety.

“Potentially, the younger age group has more pressure on their resources so they may use online [shopping], where they can have multiple screens open, comparing prices across sites,” says Risk.

When asked to nominate one main reason for shopping second-hand, saving money is mentioned most, particularly by the 18 to 24 age group. Older respondents are more likely to say that buying second-hand enables them to buy something for themselves while supporting a charity – more than half (54 per cent) of those aged 55 to 64 compared with 23 per cent of 18- to 24-year olds. Women are more likely to cite a love of a bargain, supporting charity and greener motivations for buying second-hand.

Risk says: “Going to a charity shop may be perceived as undesirable, but the younger generation are more comfortable with purchasing online, whether it’s for new or second-hand goods.”

Sue Ryder has seen more younger consumers shopping in its stores, as well as younger volunteers, particularly as it increases its vintage and retro stock (see Marketers’ response, below). The charity is partnering with the London College of Fashion on a project to raise awareness of the importance of recycling and to install in its students the idea of ‘fashion with a conscience’.

The project is due to start in March 2014. Twenty groups of students from the womenswear design course will create a capsule collection of six outfits, two of which must be made from Sue Ryder donations. The finished garments will be on display in 10 Sue Ryder shops around London during National Recycle Week in June 2014.

“There have been conversations about whether there are too many charity shops coming on the high street, but there is a market for them,” says Risk. “This marries up with some of the motivations of people – they like the fact they are purchasing something and supporting a charity.”

According to the study, the younger the respondent, the more likely their buying habits have changed in the past 12 months. Risk says that the younger age groups are the most fluid and this is reflected in the results of the research.

Only 40 per cent are buying the same mix of new and second-hand compared with a year ago. The biggest age difference is for buying fewer second-hand and more new items: 18- to 24-year olds are much more likely to do so than other age groups.

For consumers aged 25 and above, second-hand buying behaviours are broadly in line with research conducted in 2009 but with two notable differences. Respondents in 2013 are less likely to have purchased a second-hand car compared with those in the 2009 survey, at 30 per cent versus 44 per cent. They are also less likely to have purchased second-hand furniture (non-antique), at 27 per cent versus 37 per cent in 2009.

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Risk believes that car purchasing has suffered generally. He says: “It will be interesting, now that the economy is starting to turn around, to see whether car purchasing, both new and second-hand, will start increasing again.”

It is clear from the research that the trend for second-hand buying will continue to rise, particularly when analysing the reasons that people shop for used items. Donating to charity while picking up a bargain looks set to continue to resonate with shoppers.


Looking at the purchasing behaviour of ’second-hand shoppers’ (those who have shopped second hand), the research breaks the data down by what people buy in relation to gender and age group – ranging from 18- to 64-year olds. It reveals differences in the motivations and channels people prefer when buying pre-owned items. GMI questioned 1,000 shoppers about their buying behaviour in the past 12 months.

Marketers’ response


Dana Curry
Retail director 
Sue Ryder

What stands out as different from other research is the statistic that seven out of 10 people have bought second-hand items from a charity. I found that interesting as it is quite a high figure. We have seen reports that UK consumers have over £30bn worth of clothes in their wardrobes, of which 30 per cent haven’t been used for a year. The sector is doing well but we could do better if we can get more people to donate stuff to us.

In the past five years, we have been attracting a younger audience. We have been growing the vintage and retro departments and have specialist shops. Along that line, it’s very similar with our volunteers. Currently, 27 per cent of our volunteers are under the age of 25, which is a real change in the past 10 years.


Ian Buzer 
Managing director 
Preloved (Second-hand buying and selling website)   

It’s interesting that one-third of respondents say they are buying more second-hand and less new items than 12 months ago, which is a trend that is reflected in the numbers of new members Preloved has attracted over that period.

There seems to be a growing acceptance that, while shopping for second-hand is largely motivated by saving money, recycling or ’upcycling’ items is another factor. With continued media interest in this area, such activity has established second-hand shopping as an accepted part of the mainstream.

Mobile technology also has a clear role to play in future growth. Preloved experiences over 20 per cent of its traffic via mobile, which looks set to continue to grow in the coming months.