What is Recommerce?

Recommerce, also known as reverse commerce, is usually where pre-owned goods are resold to buyers who will then recycle, repair, reuse, or resell them. Consider eBay or even Amazon – many of the products you see here are pre-owned items being sold off, perhaps at a lower price, as an alternative option to brand new ones.

Generally C2C (consumer to consumer), Recommerce is an example of sustainable commerce and the circular economy, where fewer products need to be manufactured or scrapped which is, of course, better for the environment.


What products are commonly sold via Recommerce?

Popular Recommerce products include:

  • Books
  • CDs/DVDs
  • Apparel/Footwear/Accessories
  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Notebook computers
  • Consumer electronics
  • Jewelry
  • Furniture

These products tend to be either timeless, in the case of movies, music, and books, or still worthy of use despite being older, in the case of many consumer electronics, furniture, etc.

After all, do you really need a brand new phone at full price when you can buy a pre-owned one that is a year old and will still be fine for years?


How about upcycled products and downcycled products?

These, too, are a form of Recommerce. Whereas pre-owned products can be resold (perhaps after merely being cleaned or repaired) which is a form of recycling, up and down cycling are where new products are made from old ones.

Upcycled products are made from other existing products and, combined, they create a new equal or more valuable product. An example of this would be creating new glass bottles from old ones or using them to create ornaments or vases.

Downcycled products are also made from pre-owned products, but they are less valuable. Examples would be used office paper being pulped and turned into cardboard, or shoe soles being shredded and the rubber pellets being pressed into rubber matting. Depending on the material and process it may only be possible to downcycle products into lower and lower value products until such time as they must be sent to landfill or incinerated.


Is Recommerce growing?

Yes, it’s all around us in thrift stores and the aforementioned online platforms like eBay. Reselling ‘stuff’ isn’t a new concept, but it’s growing:

Research firm Cowen now predicts recommerce (including resale, rental and subscription models) will account for 14% of the apparel, footwear and accessories market by 2024, up from about 7% in 2020. Resale platform ThredUp suggests that apparel resale alone will be a $64 billion market by 2024. (source)

Is this really any surprise these days where consumers are becoming more concerned with sustainable products? Purchasing perfectly serviceable pre-owned products is a more sustainable choice than buying new, and easier on the wallet, too.


Will ‘right to repair’ have an effect?

The gathering pace of ‘right to repair’ legislation around the world may also serve to spur on Recommerce sales, as consumers and third parties are increasingly provided with free reign to repair products over time. This is where manufacturers design their products to be more easily repairable by most people through using more common parts, for example, which is quite the change over past practices where many products were designed specifically not to be able to be repaired other than by the manufacturer themselves. 

Manufacturers may find this troublesome in terms of IP protection and potentially lower sales (as products can last longer), but it could see more products hitting the Recommerce markets as they no longer need to be scrapped if they go wrong, even in the case of older models which are no longer produced or supported by manufacturers (as in theory they can be repaired with fairly common tools and parts).


Are larger companies paying attention to Recommerce?

Yes, here are some examples: 


If we take Apple as an example, they provide a trade-in service for most new products. Let’s say you want to buy this new model iPhone, you’re able to trade in your existing phone for credit towards the new phone as you can see here:

recommerce example of apple trade in

You, the consumer, get a new phone, but your old phone is either recycled or refurbished and resold by Apple which feeds into a more circular or sustainable economy.


It’s been possible to purchase discounted returned furniture at IKEA for some time in their warehouse, but they’ve recently launched a buy-back scheme where they will purchase assembled IKEA furniture that is in good condition back from customers in return for store credit.


Outdoor clothing brand, Patagonia, are well-known for their focus on sustainability and the environment. Not only do they give 1% of all sales to environmental groups who are working to improve the planet, but they also provide clear instructions on how to repair their clothing in order to lengthen its lifespan and also accept old items for repurposing or recycling through their stores.

The auto trade

Furthermore, trade-ins have been commonplace in the used-auto industry for decades, where it’s almost standard practice for a garage to offer you a value for your current vehicle against the one you want to purchase.


Is Recommerce strictly only for products?

Not at all. Buildings and structures are often being repurposed for use in different ways. This has been particularly evident post-COVID, where large buildings such as factories or nightclubs have been turned into exhibition spaces, for example. 

Nonetheless, where Recommerce will touch most people’s lives is in the C2C sales space where pre-owned products change hands in a more sustainable form of shopping.

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