One of the most significant developments in the world of retail over the past decade has been the rise of e-commerce, and the threat it has posed to traditional brick-and-mortar retail outlets. Just as the Internet has revolutionized communications, it has also given shoppers a more direct connection to retailers, increasing the range of available products while driving prices down. This has led to an explosion of new e-commerce websites and online delivery businesses, but it has also been accompanied by an equally remarkable series of developments in the second-hand economy. Just as e-retail giants have reshaped how North Americans shop for new products, online classified sites are having a major impact on where and how people buy and sell used goods.
The second-hand economy has traditionally existed in a variety of different modes — from the re-store to the flea market to the garage sale — and over the past twenty years shoppers have started to use classified ads posted to websites to take advantage of the decentralized network of connections the Internet has made possible to buy used items online. The popularity of online classifieds is due to the horizontal sales networks they make possible: where the used market traditionally worked through re-sale shops that would offer sellers little or nothing for used goods, and inefficient garage sales that brought in low revenue and were comparatively labour-intensive, online classifieds allow people to sell unwanted clothes, electronics, furniture, and even cars directly to interested parties from the comfort of their own homes.
The technological developments that made this kind of networking possible dovetailed with a renewed interest in the peer-to-peer economy — an approach to commerce that values the horizontal over the lateral and encourages individuals to buy and sell directly from each other rather than going through large corporate intermediaries. Over time, shoppers and vendors began to gravitate toward a handful of large online classified sites that have become hubs for the online second-hand economy. Because these sites allow buyers to conduct high-level searches by product category, price, and region, they made a much more targeted approach to second-hand shopping possible, and gave those looking to sell used products a much larger potential market.
This has had a wide-reaching impact. One of the best examples of how online classifieds are changing online shopping is furniture — traditionally, furniture was hard to sell to second hand shops unless it is extremely valuable; not only does it take up a lot of space, with providers like IKEA flooding the market with cheap easy-to-assemble options, buying used furniture can seem like more trouble than it is worth. With online classifieds, however, it can be more convenient to shop used because it allows shoppers to find high quality furniture being sold in their own neighborhood.
The Internet has already drastically re-shaped how retail works in the 21st century by providing consumers with a broader range of more affordable options, and the rise of online classifieds has not only been good for consumers, it has had a positive social impact as well. Because online classifieds make it easier to circulated used goods, they have been instrumental in cutting down on waste and creating a culture of conservation. As more and more retail moves online, this may have a significant impact on the second-hand economy’s market share in the coming decade.
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