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The Role of Sustainability and Circular Economy in Online Marketplaces

7 September 2021

With global warming and climate change initiatives drawing more attention globally, the demand for goods aligned with sustainability regulations and circular buying cycles has never been greater. Etsy has ballooned into the fourth-largest marketplace in the world in a short amount of time – with the number of active buyers rising from 9.32m in 2012 to 81.9m in 2020. Similarly, Depop has a cult-like following amongst Gen Z, hunting for hidden gems and upcycled custom pieces.

While these are all mostly consumer-driven marketplaces, there is now also an opportunity for brands and retailers to gain a piece of the pie. With disruptive marketplaces like Thrift+ forging partnerships with the likes of Farfetch, Hush, Fenwick and John Lewis through their innovative retail proposition, brands and retailers such as Levi’s Jeans building their own marketplace to allow consumers to trade-in their used articles, and Selfridges allowing customers to rent designer fashion on a daily or weekly basis, the space is growing.

This article will explore how brands and retailers can capitalise on this movement and authentically develop a circular proposition of their own via marketplaces.



One example of a business driving sustainability in this space is Thrift+. Thrift+ was created with the purpose of ensuring less clothes end up in landfills, by providing customers with the best charity shopping experience. The process starts with individuals who are looking to get rid of their second-hand clothes – typically, these would be thrown away directly, or donated and end up in a landfill later down the line. Thrift+ aims to avoid this outcome, whilst providing all involved parties with added value.

With Thrift+, consumers are able to order a box or a bag that they fill with their second-hand clothes in and return. Then, Thrift+ uses photography technology to automatically upload and create product listings. The second-hand clothes are then sold, with the money being split three ways, between the donor (in the form of credits to use on the Thrift+ marketplace or one of the retail partners, Farfetch, Hush, Fenwick, or John Lewis) , Thrift+ and the donor’s chosen charity. This way, everyone’s a winner: the clothes are repurposed, harmful effects on the environment are avoided and the donor of the clothes gets some money back for their trouble, Thrift+ is able to grow and scale their business, and help fund charities.



Another ‘recommerce’ initiative that has recently been launched by Levi’s is Levi’s SecondHand – a buy-back program again aimed at reducing landfill waste. However, this scheme is also designed to connect people to vintage styles that they may not have been able to find otherwise. So, how does it work?

Again, the process is very simple. To begin with, owners of Levi’s denim products can make an appointment at participating Levi’s stores to trade in their old denim, such as jeans, shorts and jackets – subsequently receiving a gift card towards future purchases. The clothes are then professionally cleaned, sorted and listed on to be sold again, keeping timeless pieces in circulation and out of landfills. 



To continue, an alternative idea aimed at sustainability through taking advantage of the circular economy is being done by Selfridges Rental. Part of their pioneering initiative Project Earth, Selfridges Rental gives consumers the opportunity to rent various styles from leading designers and brands. 

The process for this is also very straightforward as with the previous examples: you choose a piece to rent for 4, 8, 10 or 20 days and have it delivered directly to your door. When your rental period is up, you simply return the outfit using Selfridges’ sustainable packaging, which is all included in the price along with dry-cleaning services. 



Alongside large retailers such as Selfridges and Levi’s tackling the issue of sustainability with their own initiatives, there are also other efforts being made such as the peer-to-peer shopping app Depop. With many users utilising the app as a thrift store, Depop allows people to buy and sell their own clothing and fashion accessories. 

As mentioned earlier, Depop is extremely popular with Gen Z, with an estimated 90% of users being under the age of 26. There are several reasons this may be the case, perhaps for starters because Depop’s layout is similar to that of Instagram, so the platform has a social media feel to it. In addition, the app provides users an opportunity to recycle their used items for money, which is of course an attractive prospect.



As we have seen, there are certainly a lot of exciting new initiatives being developed in the realm of sustainability. From reducing landfill waste by trading in your vintage clothes for resale with retailers, to directly selling your old unwanted products peer-to-peer with a platform such as Depop, there are a lot of opportunities for consumers and businesses to be more environmentally friendly. Aside from being great for the environment, these schemes are also a great chance for retailers to squeeze more revenue out of products reaching the end of their lifecycle (as well as a good way for individuals to make some extra cash, like with Depop). 

However, it is not just about reducing waste directly – circular buying cycles and reusing products is also a good way to have a positive impact on the environment. We have seen this with the Selfridges rental scheme, for example. Although there are a lot of marketplaces for used goods which is a good way to repurpose old items, the idea of changing buying habits and consumer attitudes presents a different method of tackling a similar problem. Will we see a situation in the future where people are shifting towards renting clothes more frequently as opposed to buying new ones, particularly for special occasions? 

What about other products aside from clothing? Could this idea of prolonging the life cycle and use case of a single item extend beyond fashion into other industries? Ultimately, there are certainly many advantages to moving towards a less wasteful society in which we can extract the maximum utility from each product as opposed to buying things we don’t need. And not only is this beneficial for the environment and businesses, it’s also great for us as individuals and on a collective societal scale too. 



Consumers are demanding sustainable methods to shop online, and they are voting with their spending. The fast growth of the likes of Depop and Thrift+ prove this, and other online retailers are quickly realising that if they are not innovating here, they may be left behind, particularly with younger consumers (Gen Z), who are gradually growing in disposable income as they go into employment, and will become more even valuable to companies’ bottom lines.

So, what should your business be doing in order to stay ahead of the curve and cater to the needs of these customers? Certainly, one approach could be building your marketplace. If that’s something you’d like to explore, it would be worth a conversation with the team at Storesome, our turn-key marketplace technology solution. Alternatively, if you’re not ready to commit to a native solution quite yet, a lighter-touch strategy could be to sell Class B/C returned goods or factory defects on eBay, where shoppers are known to hunt for a bargain and overlook the need for perfection. We Are Pentagon can certainly help you here, having been given the ‘Rapid Growth eBay Partner Award’ during eBay’s Partner Day 2021, we know how to succeed.

Whatever you decide to do, you’re making the first step by considering what opportunities are available to your brand in this space. And if you need some expertise, our team is here to help.



Let us develop a tailored solution for your business that will help you reach new international customers and grow your global sales.

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