Barriers to buying and selling second-hand items

Purchasing behaviours can have significant environmental, social, and economic impacts. Buying new products that are made from ‘virgin materials’ often uses a significant amount of material resources.

Keeping items in circulation (e.g. buying or selling pre-owned household goods) can help mitigate some of these negative effects by prolonging the life of items and reducing demand for virgin materials.

While buying and selling secondhand items is not new, there is an opportunity to ‘normalise’ uptake of these behaviours in Australia. However, in order to encourage these behaviours, it is imperative to first understand what is driving them and - importantly - what is stopping them.

The challenge:
To identify the key drivers and barriers to buying and selling secondhand household goods
DCCEEW, DEECA, Sustainability Victoria, The Shannon Company

What we did:

The target behaviours for this project were identified in an earlier phase of the larger Mission-based collaboration which identified and prioritised behaviour change challenges related to responsible consumption. 

The focus behaviours were:

  • Consumers purchase pre-owned fashion items from physical retails stores for the first-time.
  • Consumers donate/give-away usable pre-owned women's wear when getting rid of 'old' items; and
  • Householders buy quality new or pre-owned furniture & sell usable furniture.

Between December 2021 and February 2022, multiple research streams were undertaken to better understand the target behaviours. The research activities included: 

  • Secondary data analysis of existing waste-prevention survey data,
  • Desktop research of existing literature, 
  • An online consumer survey, and 
  • Interviews with retailers and consumers.

What we learnt:

Purchasing second-hand clothing

Purchasing clothing secondhand is somewhat common – particularly among women and from physical stores. The most common drivers are affordability, desire for bargain or treasure hunting, wanting to separate from the mainstream, seeking social interactions, and attractive visual displays. The most common barriers identified were: not knowing the history of an item, the stigma associated with buying secondhand, not being ‘on-trend’, shop displays and layouts, store locations, time investment, poor quality items, product quantity, and the cost difference compared to fast fashion. Retailers and brands also emphasised the importance of quality and of “normalising” secondhand purchasing.

Donating or giving away clothing

Donating and giving away pre-owned clothing are also relatively common and women are more likely to do so than men. A common driver is a sense of reciprocity (i.e. ‘giving back’). Other drivers include avoiding waste and organising storage spaces. People are less likely to donate if they lack knowledge or do not have easily available opportunities.

Buying and selling furniture

Buying quality new or secondhand furniture, and selling pre-owned furniture are not very common behaviours. High-income households are more likely to buy quality new furniture. Rental households are more likely to buy second-hand furniture. Those born in Australia are more likely to buy quality new and sell pre-owned furniture. Common drivers for buying & selling secondhand furniture are economic and anti-consumption beliefs. Common barriers for buying and selling pre-owned furniture is lack of knowledge for how and where to do the behaviours.

Research extracts which summarise the key findings from this project can be found here.

What's next:

Results from this research were used to help in the co-design and prioritisation of behaviour change interventions as part of the larger Mission-based project.

The results from this research are public and can be used by anyone working in the responsible consumption spafe - including policymakers, practitioners, advocates, and everyone in between. A key objective of the larger project is to create a 'ripple effect' towards the wider mission goals. One way of achieving this is by sharing findings from the program and identifying collaboration opportunities to continue to address responsible consumption in Australia.

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