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Marketing, Social, Tech

Is China’s Second Hand Market Still Booming?

Taitau is a Lithuanian brand of especially high quality – natural chocolate. We love it, so will you.

WPBeijing was a marketing studio founded by Peter Bic and Everlyne Yu in Beijing, October 2003. In 2017 it became known as TheBicaverse. Aim2D shares our experiences and insights. So, make yourself a pot of Oolong tea, grab a bar of Lithuanian Taitau branded chocolate, and settle down for a longer read.

Today we are revisiting an older post focused on second hand goods in China. Have things changed?

Back in May 2020 we wrote about China’s used goods market. We revisited a year later noting the increased number of APPs now in that segment.
So, end of October, 2022, what’s the situation?
Where does the future of China used goods lie?
Is China’s Second Hand Market Still Booming?
All these questions, and more – maybe- will be answered in today’s scintillating Aim2D post.


Before we go there, perhaps a a reprint of our original article is in order, to lay the frame work or background as it were.

We have also moved this to a Tuesday time slot, edited slightly and cut out the links (they are outdated) so it is no longer a long, weekend read. Although it is still just shy of 2000 words, about 12 minutes read time. Maybe another 5 or 6 with the links – which are, by the way, tested safe by us. Of course, that doesn’t mean you still can’t enjoy a healthy bar of Taitau choc and cup of green tea.

China’s second hand market – a little history.

Hanfu- art work by Ranny: 2022
Hanfu- art work by Ranny: 2022

Originally published 8th May 2020

Over the past 6 or so weeks we have seen mention of a second hand market rapidly emerging in China. Let’s take a look at that.

First, its important to remember than nothing, not even change in China, happens in isolation, nor overnight. Pretty darn quick in most cases, but rarely overnight! [sort of reminds us of Rachel Hunters schpeal for a certain hair care product many years ago!]

Some of the commentators we have read are linking this to the Covid virus, inferring that being locked up for xx weeks has made Chinese value what is important.

The first point here is that contrary to what US based media reported, China did not lock down perse. Yep Wuhan surely did, as did the province Hubei. But like us, here in Beijing, many Chinese, apart from having an extra 10 days added to their holiday, were pretty much free to wander. Not everywhere was shut, public transport still functioned.

Accounts from friends and relatives suggest that NZ, EU was closed tighter than China- overall. So we think the image of millions of Chinese, shut up in a small room, contemplating their navel, revaluing their priorities and the meaning of life, whilst romantic and poetic even, is a little too fanciful.

Main problem here is timing.

If you have read even just a few of our pages, you will have seen we refer to LUXURY and FASHION as signposts for business, marketing, tech and social media trends in China.
We have stated- ad nausea- that wherever Lux and Fashion goeth, mainstream surely followeth.

Well, surely is a bit of an over reach maybe. But the chances of it not are reasonably small. Therefore, even if your product is simple wooden clothes pegs, it is worth keeping an eye on Lux trends. Just in case. To put it into military parlance:

“ forewarned is forearmed: less likely to be taken by surprise.”

Or something like that.
So, what we are saying is the second hand market in China began with luxury. And is still largely dominated by it.

To a great extend it is difficult to say precisely when.
Some researchers put is as far back as 2016 when showing off wealth and ostentation became vulgar and distasteful among China’s established, wealthy. Yet not quite for the burgeoning middle class and nouveau riche. For those looking to fast track, a second hand whatever was a logical path.

However, in the beginning, there were more buyers than sellers. Current owners saw nothing wrong with wearing a skirt once and then leaving it hanging in the back of the wardrobe.

Other writers point to the tightening economy of 2018 as a driving factor when cleaning out the wardrobe could realise a reasonable amount of cash. By this time JD.com had established a second hand section in the electrical, computer and mobile phone sections. This is feasible; it ties with Japan’s trend in the 1990s.

The are several speciality second hand luxury online platforms in China. However, currently a large part of this industry is conducted through Brick and Mortar stores. Middle men / women. Original buyers sell to the store, new owners buy.

The reason of course is simple. Buying from an experienced middle person with a sharp eye substantially reduces the risk of spending big money to buy a fake on line.

Today, as many point out, the second hand market, especially Lux and Fashion is, in China, hot and getting hotter. Many experts point to the same phenomenon in Japan, middle 1990’s where a circular system developed. New buyers continued to buy new, but sold more readily. In China we can expect to see more people selling, more buying.

At the end of the day it is all about marketing

There is also a quiet revolution of sorts, happening at retail level in China. We do not speak of second hand, used or even pre loved luxury or goods in China. The new term is now Vintage.
To that end, vintage stores have sprung up.

Quietly elegant and opulent, but with an air of sophistication and helpful, discreet salespeople to calm and of course, flatter perspective clients. After all this is still a relatively new experience for some and it has probably taken them several weeks of slowly walking past the store before they dare to enter.
Hoping friends don’t see.

Let’s not forget, this is a culture where not too long ago, wearing something used conjured up memories of the old China.
Poor China.
Where people struggled for survival and hand-me-downs was a way of life. But again, this is slowly changing as the stigma of second hand is eroded and value of proudly owning something Vintage strengthens. After all, consider for a moment the mental image that Vintage cars or Vintage wine contours up in your mind. ‘Nuff said.

If we think about the previous passage for a moment, we can see that this is not universal. It isn’t a carte blanche to take this new desire for vintage clothing or second hand goods and , as some writers are suggesting, paint it over every Chinese. It just isn’t that simple. Nothing in China ever is. Truly.

Like many countries today, China has a burgeoning older generation and a not so large but never-the-less fast growing younger gen. For the older gen, the memory of old China is very real- within their life time. It would be hard for them to buy something that wasn’t new. Even relatively younger women in the mid 40’s baulk at this idea. For them the emphasis is on ownership, being new, being seen and “face” that comes from that.

Currently, the vintage market is, generally, driven by the younger generation, those for whom the “experience” is greater than possession and the also growing, environmentally aware sector. Who also tend to be younger.

But even that is a huge generalisation. Apart from the fact that Chinese society is changing, peoples attitudes are changing, there is still a massive discrepancy between thinking and values in different regions. (Which of course is why we regularly say if you are thinking of China, don’t base all your decisions on a weeks holid…, errr research in Shanghai. Shanghai is NOT China.

It may, for example, be relatively safe and accurate to state that younger shoppers are the biggest drivers of vintage in Beijing or Shanghai. It might however, be erroneous to suggest that older women there do not. It might be an equally dangerous conclusion to believe young people in Wuhan, Chongqing or Jilin are less inclined to buy vintage.

In conclusion, the point to this rather long article is much the same as others we have created. One size does not fit all in China. It is not a huge market of 1.4 billion. Rather a huge number of smaller markets and niche sectors.

So please, next time you read an article re China, don’t realign, re-jig your marketing plan or dive into an MMC run influencer / celebrity hype campaign. Take some time, read around and dig a little deeper. Nothing in China is as simple as it first looks. In fact, where is it, anywhere, really?

2022 – is this market still booming?

Short answer -yep!
Apart from the APPs we mentioned earlier and wrote about and introduced you to the term Re Commerce here:

Second hand in China is still a very strong sector with a report last year (2021) predicting sales to reach nearly 3 trillion yuan in 2025.

There has, as would be expected over 2 years, been a decent segmentation of the market. It has spawned boutique style B&M stores in many big to medium sized Chinese cites. There are also a plethora of what we might call “Flea” markets, or night markets where pre loved, sorry, Vintage good are traded.

In the bigger cites 20 to 35 year olds are still the biggest drivers of online second hand sales. There is also a distinct gender bias showing up, males are predominately shopping for used phones or digital equipment, females for branded fashion garments. However, this is not a set in stone distinction.

On line niches have also developed, one relatively popular app had a section that catered for those who wished to dispose of ex girlfriends, husbands, boyfriends, lovers or wives. Or more correctly dispose of gifts from said exes. Appropriately named: “ Goodbye to my Ex” in Chinese.

Other popular segments include books, art, audio and video titles, baby wear and furniture (ie, prams, cradles) kitchen gadgets. A growing sector is “Hanfu” (Han ethnic style clothing) hair clips, ties and bricabrac which is especially popular with the early teens thought to late 20’s in China. Including the Bic’s 15 year old daughter whose art work features as our article image.

Currently very hot a very popular second hand general goods APP, Dejavue recently morphed into B&M stores around China.
As discussed in this article from our friends at China Daily:

Second hand markets flourish all across China

For those of you who find charts and data more educational:

Second-hand consumer goods in China – statistics & facts

GLOBAL SECOND-HAND APPAREL MARKET SIZE119bn USD
NUMBER OF RE-COMMERCE USERS IN CHINA223m
MOST POPULAR RE-COMMERCE PLATFORM IN CHINAXianyu
Dada according to STATISTA

Where does the future of China used goods lie?

Several alleged pundits are offering their definite views on the future of second hand sales in China. Often disagreeing with each other. We have no such crystal ball, but we would tend to cautiously agree that for the next few years at least, this will be a hot market.

It is, we feel, a no brainer that luxury goods, especially fashion will continue to dominate, despite the current down turn in spending generally. China’s once was working, rural class is still growing into middle class and this downturn might see them continue to turn to second hand lux as part of their upwardly mobile stepping stones.

Stepping a bit out of our comfort zone, we note that the sale of private auto’s in China has picked up in the past 3 months after several sluggish months. The steadily increasing cost of petrol and extension of subsidies might push a few ICE owners to move to NEV. However, the price of most family sized NEV’s is still high with Gvt subsidies due to end some time 2023.

Therefopre, if we had to go out on a limb, we might hazard a cautious “guess” that the China second hand car market, esp NEV ( Trade in Tesla’s! ) could be in for a boom come mid 2023.


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