The furniture industry has been built on the idea “new” — from consumers shopping for new home furnishings to outfit their new homes to interior designers remaking clients’ spaces with new finishes and new pieces. New. New. New.
But with younger consumers more debt-strapped, and growing concerns about the environmental impacts of manufacturing, shipping, buying and eventually discarding products into landfills, does the industry need to rethink the idea of resale?
In a survey conducted by consumer experience and insights firm WD Partners last year, more than 71% of respondents said they shop secondhand at least once a month. Some 11% do so daily. (I’m thinking most of those folks are collectors or resellers themselves; some might be people with shopping addictions.) But another 26% shop secondhand weekly and 33% do so monthly. Their reasons vary: Some like the fun of seeking out “treasures.” Others want to save money and still others like the sustainability of buying used items or, in the parlance of auto dealers, preowned products.
The WD Partners’ survey looked across consumer categories but our own Consumer Insights Now research conducted earlier this year showed significant consumer interest in antique and secondhand furniture. According to CIN results, 34% of consumers in the market for home furnishings own antiques, and 55% own secondhand furniture, with millennials and Gen Zers most likely to have secondhand pieces in their homes. (CIN research is conducted on behalf of Decor News Now and its sister publications Home News Now, Casual News Now and Bedding News Now.)
Nearly every town and city has its share of specialized antique, vintage and secondhand stores, and the online marketplace is proliferating, from the flea-market vibe of Facebook’s Marketplace to customer-service focused Kaiyo (they clean each piece before shipping it to your home) to the curated finds at Chairish and 1stDibs. Companies like One Kings Lane and Rejuvenation focus on new products but offer vintage pieces, too. This year, we’ve seen trade furniture sources, including Regina Andrew Detroit, add significant vintage and one-of-a-kind selections to their offerings of new pieces.
Right now, resale furniture is a small fraction of the industry. Chairish’s own report 2022 annual home furnishings resale report notes it has “rehomed” more than 661,660 vintage, antique and preowned items since 2013. On the one hand, it’s an impressive number. On the other hand, compared to Ikea or Wayfair’s annual sales, it’s infinitesimal.
But the resale market is growing. In Chairish’s resale report, the company draws attention to the fact that the entire U.S. resale market (including a wide variety of product categories) is expected to grow from $199 billion this year to $289 billion in 2. “Since 2015, U.S. home furnishings spending has increased 34.7%; in contrast, resale U.S. home furnishings grew an impressive 62.6% over the same period,” the report says.
Chairish notes that home furnishings are now No. 2 in terms of what secondhand categories consumers feel comfortable buying, behind the No. 1 category of books and media. What’s more, the report emphasizes: Consumers across income levels are interested in secondhand items. Those with less money to spend are focused on cost savings; those with higher incomes like the idea of finding unique or rare pieces. (It’s notable that Baker is the top vintage/preowned brand on Chairish. Others with strong growth on the site last year: Ethan Allen, Henredon, Knoll and Ralph Lauren, according to the annual report.)
Whatever happens with inflation, the move toward a circular economy — and away from things like fast fashion and disposable furniture — will likely continue. In the circular economy, the idea is to reuse, refurbish, repair and resell products instead of always making new. It’s a fresh concept based on history — closer to how our pre-industrialization and even pre-World War II economies functioned.
I’ve talked before about the need for brick-and-mortar home furnishings retailers to consider expanding into services like reupholstery and refinishing to set themselves apart and to offer value that online sellers can’t as easily. That’s part of the circular economy.
Designers, who are doing the product curation for their clients, can incorporate more vintage, antique and even secondhand pieces into their projects. Your clients trust your taste and judgment. If you tell them secondhand is the way to go, clients will follow.
We haven’t seen many traditional furniture retailers or manufacturers venture into deeply into offering preowned products yet. I get it, there’s fear of cannibalizing new sales, which continue to account for the vast, vast majority of industry revenue.
But it may be time to rethink how retailers can offer more vintage, antique and secondhand furnishings as part of their overall mix or in special departments, again, like auto dealers do. It’s something customers may increasingly demand.
“The bottom line: In the (15+) years WD Partners has conducted surveys on consumer sentiment, interest and taste, we’ve never seen results like this,” writes Lee Peterson in a WD blog. “Respondents showed uniform strong interest in resale in every demographic we surveyed and every retail category we asked them about. General conclusion: Retailers, you need to figure this out because resale is going to work.”