Can ‘thrifting’ be incorporated into mainstream Retail?

Can ‘thrifting’ be incorporated into mainstream Retail?

Can ‘thrifting’ be incorporated into mainstream Retail?

SAS Report inspires new ideas to reach savvy and sustainability-conscious shoppers

The SAS UK & Ireland pre-Christmas Retail report Christmas yet to come: How retail analytics can drive sales and brand loyalty really got me thinking about the challenges that retailers are facing in these volatile and uncertain times, which will of course extend into 2023 and probably beyond.

It is based on research of 3,000 shoppers in the UK & Ireland in the run-up to Black Friday. I was delighted to contribute a section of the report as an independent expert in customer experience (CX), and I would highly recommend that you download and read it if you haven’t already.

One of the recommendations that I made in the report is to not “ignore the current trend for second-hand shopping or ‘thrifting’”, and this blog expands on this theme.

What has thrifting got to do with mainstream retail?

If you’re not familiar with the term “thrifting” you’re not alone – it’s a new term that doesn’t yet have a universally accepted definition. The word from which it derives, however – thrift – is well defined. The Cambridge Dictionary puts it succinctly: “the careful use of money, especially by avoiding waste

You will notice that the definition isn’t just about frugality and prudence. It also includes the avoidance of waste, which is very much on-trend given the environmental damage caused by throw-away culture (single-use and packaging plastics, fast fashion, paper manufacture, etc.).

If ever there was a term suited to the times we live in, then surely “thrifting” is it!

Some definitions restrict the term to second-hand shopping, charity shops, flea markets/rummage sales, and buying all things “vintage” or upcycled. This seems to me to be too much of a product/category centric view.

Taken from a customer centric perspective, we see that when a customer has a need and a finite amount of money to meet that need, the thrifty ones will consider all readily available options. On the high street they will diligently compare the offers and promotions on new products with what’s available pre-owned. In the online world I’m sure we’ve all browsed new and used options for the thing we were searching for.

Perhaps category managers need to expand their definitions? Thrifting is an omnichannel customer behaviour that has emerged among younger consumers that won’t go away because it’s not just about economics – as the SAS report confirms it’s also about sustainability and being savvy.

And it’s not something to ignore because some pigeon-hole this as ‘just’ second-hand shopping!

Even within mainstream retail there will be indicators of thrifting discernible in customer behaviour. Take up of offers and promotions that were previously ignored is an obvious example, but there are other indicators worth looking for – e.g. more frequent and smaller redemption of loyalty points, or a shift from fresh to frozen vegetables to reduce both cost and waste.

Mainstream retail needs to take note!

What can retailers do about thrifting post-Christmas?

The findings of the SAS report could be taken as doom and gloom, with thrifting being another inexorable trend that will lead to even more pressure on the economic viability of mainstream retail.

Or we could do something about it to turn it into an opportunity.

Here are four practical approaches and ideas to consider that will help you embrace thrifting:

  1. The first is to become much more customer centric with your data analytics and insight (my other blog sparked by this report “Modern Retailing – Customer Centric and Insight Driven” also covers this).
    I have already mentioned some indicators of thrifting behaviour. My experience in the sector leads me to believe that many retailers simply aren’t looking for such behaviour. Yes, they will track category spend fluctuations, but have they turned the telescope around and analysed longitudinal customer shopping histories to look for behavioural trends such as thrifting?
    This is a message to leadership to start asking challenging questions to your analysts and behavioural science teams – encourage them to be more “curious” (as SAS put it in their Curiosity@Work report) to discover and comprehend new trends and customer segments
  2. Trend identification and new customer segments are only useful if you do something differently based on these fresh insights.
    Direct marketing, next best offer generation and interaction management in all channels need to get much more personal, responsive, adaptive, agile and real-time with thrifty customers. This is likely to require AI-enabled decisioning and processing, something that SAS can help you with
  3. Start thinking about Returns from a thrifting perspective. Returns are often viewed wholly negatively – an annoyance and cost; a rubbish customer experience; an atmosphere of suspicion of being a ‘bad’ customer.
    Rather than being a necessary evil of doing business, how about working the “avoiding waste” aspect of thrifting to your advantage? Get your creative teams on the case!
  4. Do you know where new car retailers would be without a healthy used car market? Bust.
    Maybe it’s time to fully embrace thrifting, perhaps even part-exchanging high value items that were originally bought from you, and establishing dedicated ‘thrifting departments’.
    Even swap shops are a possibility, where customers could swap something of value (that you can sell for a profit) for something that you wish to clear.
    Can you imagine your website also offering good-as-new alternatives to your main lines? Why leave that to someone else?

A primary aim behind these approaches and ideas is to drive footfall and traffic to full-margin departments and lines, and any business case needs to take this into account. Unfortunately, requirements for business cases in retailing can also be horribly product/category centric, so you’ll need to use the insight generated in point 1 above to change the agenda and stop “same old” programmes and initiatives taking precedence over innovation.

I hope that this blog has inspired you to get more imaginative in 2023 – perhaps starting with the January sales?

Please get in touch if you would like a deeper conversation about customer and shopper experience, or with SAS to discover how retail analytics and expertise can help you swiftly identify and respond to trends and new opportunities.

Peter Lavers