E-Commerce

How French resale companies Back Market and ​Vestiaire Collective approach the US market

The electronics and fashion resale brands have much more in common than originating in Paris.
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Samina Virk, North America CEO of Vestiaire Collective (left) and Lauren Benton, general manager, USA, of Back Market. Andrew Adam Newman

· 4 min read

Resale has come a long way in the US in the last few years, but you still won’t see a leading department store doing what Galeries Lafayette, France’s upscale department store, does at its Boulevard Haussmann location in Paris.

While brands with resale programs tend to relegate them to dedicated websites, this retailer displays secondhand items in its brick-and-mortar store along with new items, in what it calls its (Re)Store department.

France, it seems, has a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to resale, offering a glimpse of what the US could evolve into if consumers’ appetite for secondhand items keeps growing.

A recent event in New York’s Union Square neighborhood brought together two French resale brands that originated in Paris and now have a growing presence in the US. On the surface, the brands—Back Market, which sells pre-owned electronics and hosted the event in its spacious office, and Vestiaire Collective, an online marketplace for pre-owned luxury fashion items—may seem to have little in common.

However, even though they sell such different products, their missions and approaches have many similarities. Par exemple:

Resale is a customer-acquisition tool

Luxury brands were late adopters to resale, with some brands fearing that selling used items would cannibalize the sales of their bigger-ticket items.

But Samina Virk, North America CEO of Vestiaire Collective, said exactly the opposite is happening because some consumers, who may not be able to afford to pay full-price for a luxury brand, may be able to swing the price of pre-owned.

She said many customers indicated they’d purchased something from a brand for the first time on Vestiaire Collective.

“So it’s introducing them to this brand and the brand experience, which very often could mean that they now have an experience where they’re continuing a relationship with a brand,” Virk told the audience at the event.

Some shop for refurbished electronics because “they’re watching their budgets,” Lauren Benton, USA general manager of Back Market, added at the event. “Refurbished can be a great entry point into a lot of premium brand products.”

Advocacy is central to their missions

At the event, Back Market was handing out baseball caps that said “Fix Me,” and while it might be the perfect thing to wear to your next therapy appointment, it’s actually a slogan for the reseller’s advocacy for right-to-repair laws.

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The laws, which require brands to make parts, software, and other information available so consumers or independent repairers can fix anything from their John Deere tractor to their Apple iPhone, have passed in 27 states, according to Public Interest Research Group. Back Market’s website urges consumers who don’t yet have a right-to-repair law in their states to contact lawmakers to get one passed.

“You can imagine how passionately we feel about that as our entire business is built around quality refurbishment,” Benton said. “If you can make that more difficult, it’s harder to hit that quality. And so we educate our customers on how to advocate at a state level.”

Vestiaire Collective—which, like many resale brands, is vocal about circularity—has taken a stand against fast fashion brands, whose quality and price may make them more likely to be worn a few times and thrown away. Over the past two years, it has banned ~60 brands it considers fast fashion from its site, including Gap, H&M, Uniqlo, and Zara, and Virk said at the event that it plans to add another 30 brands to ban.

“Our goal was to really increase the conversation around overconsumption,” Virk said.

They’re kind of obsessed with landfills

The executives of both brands cited the environmental benefits of resale, including that it conserves the vast amount of water required to manufacture clothing and electronics. Both voiced particular concerns about how buying resale (and selling used items rather than discarding them) can ease the burden to—and toxicity of—landfills.

E-waste accounts for “70% of the toxins in our landfills,” Benton said. “It is highly poisonous, but we don’t talk about that as much and Back Market has had quite a hill to climb to create that awareness.”

As part of an anti-fast fashion advertising campaign, ​Vestiaire Collective subverted the notion that landfills are out of sight and out of mind for many, and instead showed mountains of discarded clothes in iconic settings like Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace, and Times Square.

“When you see those images, it really brings a different light to the fact that [clothes are] really ending up in our landfills,” Virk said.

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.