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The Rise of Resale

Why Buying Preloved gives a Bigger Buzz.


Today's news that Vinted has made a profit for the first time, reflects the booming resale market with an estimated 74% of global consumers shopping resale. Mobile apps have made buying used products as easy as buying new ones, leading to an explosion of vintage and secondhand retailing. In 2022, Vinted had approximately 65 million users worldwide (1) and it is estimated that the UK’s current £5.3 billion fashion resale market will have grown by nearly 70 per cent to £8.9 billion by 2026 (2). This rise is considered to be reflective of the move towards collaborative consumption and a sharing economy, with Gen Z and their demand for sustainability leading the way (3). The merits of buying secondhand are obvious and universally advantageous. But what if there was another benefit? One slightly more personal? We all know of the feel-good dopamine hit that comes with a non-essential purchase. What if the dopamine reward is greater when buying from resale than from the high street? This post examines the brain's reward processes associated with gambling and applies them to shopping resale. Along with the obvious consumer wins of sustainability and spending less, could this neurology help explain the rise of resale? Does buying second-hand literally give you more bang for your buck?


Instant gratification is less rewarding

As consumers we are a nation demanding immediate gratification, described by Dr Anna Lembke in Dopamine Nation as transforming ‘the world from a place of scarcity to a place of overwhelming abundance’ (4). Catering to this desire for instant reward, high street shopping has traditionally focused on the availability of stock; all the colours in all of the sizes. So the customer gets exactly what they want when they want it. However, neurology studies suggest that humans may actually find this instant gratification less rewarding than when they have to wait.


Other sources of dopamine are available

The Mechanisms of Reward Processing

Just as Ivan Pavlov’s dog salivated when the bell rang to signal food, conditioning means that when cued our brains release dopamine, the neurotransmitter involved in pleasure. Along with the dopamine hit when the reward is experienced, our brain's response to a learnt cue is a smaller ‘pre-hit’ of dopamine, in anticipation of this future reward. The purpose of the ‘pre-hit’ is to motivate us to seek the bigger hit (4). In the case of resale shopping, this cue could be just glimpsing the Vinted app on your phone or seeing an influencer showing off their # depophaul. Dopamine is released in anticipation of the big win - prompting you to seek that vintage Moschino piece - as well as when you actually score your jacket. It is this anticipation hit of dopamine that propels you to open the app and start searching.


Uncertain Rewards are More Attractive

The amount of dopamine released in this ‘pre-hit’ is suggested to reflect the chances of achieving the reward. Studies have shown that dopamine levels are highest when the chances of getting a reward are 50/50 rather than 100%. Furthermore, if a reward is given 25% or 75% of the time, while the dopamine release is higher than the guaranteed reward, it is still lower than the 50/50 chance, because it is more likely that you will (75%) or won’t (25%) receive the reward. Therefore, the higher the unpredictability, the greater the dopamine hit. Researchers theorise the unpredictability of the reward further increases the anticipation, therefore raising the dopamine release (5).


The Thrill of the Chase

In resale, the one-off nature - the innate scarcity - of an item, versus the abundance of high street stock creates this unpredictability of availability. The chances of finding a specific item, e.g., a suitable dress for a wedding or a longed-for Burberry Mac, are greatly reduced when you consider the odds of also finding one in your size. It could be argued, the capricious nature of shopping preloved means that the chances of gratification are more uncertain than shopping the high street, thereby prolonging anticipation and increasing the dopamine hit.


False Hope

However, in gambling, while the big win is rare, the random components of most games and the publicising of big winners let players believe that the chances of winning are a lot higher. While resale shoppers also know the likelihood of their ‘big win’ - finding that trophy item - is equally rare, it could be argued they feel the same misguided optimism in the randomness of preloved stock. Tales of friends ‘scoring’ vintage Mugler in a charity shop in Swindon, can only accentuate this belief. It could be suggested that this false hope - as with gambling - further enhances the anticipation, increasing the dopamine release (6).


What Goes Up...(c/o Stereo Vinyls x Jean Julien)

The Dopamine Loop

In neurology terms, a person’s tonic baseline is the level of dopamine circulating in their system. If we get the anticipated reward, dopamine increases well above this tonic baseline. This raised dopamine level, the reward response when you have a highly pleasurable experience is referred to as a phasic peak. The flood of dopamine acts to reinforce the cue, creating a cycle of motivation, reward and reinforcement. However, what goes up, must come down and as soon as we’ve finished, we experience a comedown or a dopamine dip. The problem is, that the higher the phasic peak - the lower the resultant tonic level, leaving you wanting even more dopamine to redress the balance. This is the dopamine feedback loop. In the comedown state, the brain wants you to do it again, to get the dopamine hit again. But, luckily, as long as we’re not severely addicted, the craving soon passes (4).


Loss Chasing

However, what if you don’t win/ buy that jacket? If the reward we are anticipating doesn’t materialise dopamine levels fall below baseline. Anyone experiencing the disappointment of finding the shoes, but not in your size will recognise this effect. So, after the dopamine release of the anticipation cue, the rebound means the tonic level has dropped, increasing the desire for more dopamine and, therefore, increasing the urge to keep looking in anticipation of the win, those box fresh, right-sized ballet flats for example. So, the dopamine high of finally getting the reward is suggested to be much stronger if it is preceded by losses (right flats, wrong size). This phenomenon is known as loss chasing. Interestingly, in severe cases of addiction, gamblers' dopamine levels actually increase after a loss in anticipation of an even bigger high (7).


Too Much of a Good Thing

Research suggests the more dopamine an activity releases into the brain's pathway the more addictive the experience will be (4). Does resale shopping have the potential to be more addictive than shopping retail? The factors of scarcity and randomness in resale stock acting to increase the anticipation and therefore the associated dopamine level of the ‘pre-hit’, arguably create a stronger drive to shop resale rather than retail. And all of this is before you add in the rewards that come from selling. While there is currently no scientific research into resale addiction, articles in the UK press (8, 9, 10, 11) have highlighted potential problems. With resale prices starting at as little as £2 or £3 exercising restraint and prizing quality over quantity is always going to be a tough battle, especially when dopamine is at play. In both retail and resale, apps and e-tailing have not only given us access 24-7 to a dopamine high but have also leveraged aspects of social media to encourage use. At the heart of this phenomenon lies the issue of over consumption and the current culture of wanting and needing new, even if it is only new to us. Does the rise of resale contribute to the idea of disposable clothing in a throwaway society? Understanding this desire for new is critical for brands and retailers looking to maximise their sustainability credentials and appeal to Gen Z. Given our relentless pursuit of dopamine through any form of shopping, the question must be asked, can our brains be reset to prize longevity in the same way?



To discuss this post and how the issues raised may impact your consumer please email hello@factoryforecasting.com



References

1. Vinted Revenue and Usage Statistics (2024) - Business of Apps. (2024, January 8). Business of Apps. https://www.businessofapps.com/data/vinted-statistics/

2. Apparel Resale Market Size, share and Trend Analysis by region, category performance and Competitive Landscape to 2027. (2024, March 8). Market Research Reports & Consulting | GlobalData UK Ltd. https://www.globaldata.com/store/report/apparel-resale-market-analysis/

3. Fashion Resale Behaviours and Technology Disruption: An In-Depth Review Iris Mohr, Leonora Fuxman, Ali B. Mahmoud DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-4168-8.ch015

4. Lembke, A. (2022). Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence (p.1) Penguin Random House LLC. ISBN 9781472294159

5. Sapolsky, R (2011) FORA.tv. (2011, March 2). Dopamine Jackpot! Sapolsky on the science of pleasure [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axrywDP9Ii0

6. Anselme, P., & Robinson, M. J. (2013). What motivates gambling behavior? Insight into dopamine's role. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 7, 182.

7. Linnet, J., Peterson, E., Doudet, D. J., Gjedde, A., & Møller, A. (2010). Dopamine release in ventral striatum of pathological gamblers losing money. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 122(4), 326-333.

8. Help! I’m addicted to secondhand shopping apps. (2023, February 21). Cosmopolitan. https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/fashion/style/a42918644/secondhand-shopping-apps-addiction/

9. Hoare, J. (2023, August 28). I got so addicted to Vinted that I started selling clothes I love for next to nothing. inews.co.uk. https://inews.co.uk/opinion/addicted-vinted-selling-clothes-love-2564297

10. Moloney, A. (2023, November 29). Whether it’s Shein or Vinted, we’re addicted to buying clothes for pennies. CityAM. https://www.cityam.com/whether-its-shein-or-vinted-were-addicted-to-buying-clothes-for-pennies/

11. Is second-hand shopping a cover up for overconsumption? (n.d.). Varsity Online. https://www.varsity.co.uk/fashion/25358


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