National retailers have a new plan to attract customers: used clothing.

Nordstrom said it will begin selling secondhand apparel online and in its New York flagship store, the latest attempt by the 119-year-old company to appeal to changing consumer tastes and capitalize on one of the few bright spots in retail. It joins Macy’s, JCPenney, Madewell and others in carving out a place for used clothing, shoes and handbags alongside new ones.

Resale sites such as ThredUp, Poshmark and The RealReal have gained ground in recent years as eco-friendly alternatives to fast fashion. And as the trend becomes more mainstream, clothing is making its way from the back of closets onto store shelves.

“We want our customers to feel good not only about what they’re buying but how they’re buying it,” said Olivia Kim, Nordstrom’s vice president of creative projects. She said the new initiative, See You Tomorrow, will be formally announced Thursday.

Starting Friday, racks of secondhand clothing will fill a space formerly occupied by Burberry in the company’s Manhattan store. Nordstrom will also begin allowing customers to drop off used clothing, handbags, shoes, jewelry and watches there in exchange for gift cards. Those items will be cleaned and repaired as necessary before being resold. Nordstrom said it will soon begin accepting merchandise by mail as well.

Macy’s and JCPenney have partnered with online reseller ThredUp to offer secondhand items in department stores across the country, while Madewell is offering used pairs of its jeans for $50 a pop. Neiman Marcus, meanwhile, has begun buying back “preloved” handbags. Even the Kardashian-Jenner family has gotten into the game, with the launch of Kardashian Kloset, where they offload Max Mara jumpsuits, Valentino handbags and other designer apparel.

“Through extensive research over many months, we know consumers appreciate new brands,” said Michelle Wlazlo, JCPenney’s chief merchandising officer. “The customer demand for secondhand is strong.”

The resale market, currently valued at about $7 billion, is expected to triple by 2023, according to a report prepared for ThredUp by the research firm GlobalData. The company says 56 million women bought secondhand items in 2018, up from 44 million a year earlier.

ThredUp, founded in 2009, has processed more than 100 million pieces of clothing in the past decade, according to its president, Anthony Marino. The site’s most loyal shoppers, he said, range from teenagers to 40-somethings.

“Whether you’re shopping at Target or Walmart or Nordstrom or Macy’s, customers are saying we’d love to see secondhand products here because we’re buying it anyway,” he said. “Retailers are realizing that the person who buys secondhand clothing is not somebody else’s customer – it’s their customer.”

Hundreds of secondhand items were on display at a Macy’s store in downtown Washington on a recent morning. The ThredUp section – nestled in the women’s department between Guess Jeans and Anne Klein – was filled with items commonly found in America’s shopping malls: a J. Crew shirt dress (marked $34.99), an American Eagle sweater ($11.99) and silver Victoria’s Secret bag ($24.99).

Analysts said those items are illustrative of modern retail, where fast fashion and faster-changing consumer tastes have led to an endless churn of flimsy clothing. But taken together, Macy’s says they represent a growing opportunity. The company now sells used clothing and handbags at 40 of its 630 Macy’s stores.

But not all consumers think it’s a good idea – and analysts say department stores such as Macy’s and JCPenney could risk alienating loyal shoppers. Kimberly Ross, 57, who lives Baton Rouge, Louisiana, says she was perplexed when secondhand handbags began popping up at her local Dillard’s store a few years ago. Though she sometimes sells items to consignment stores, she says selling used items alongside new ones tarnishes the reputation of the retailer.

“Bottom line for me is that used merchandise does not belong in a department store,” she said. “I’m not wealthy, but when I decide to treat myself to an overpriced designer bag, I want it to be brand new.”

Others, though, said combining new with used is long overdue. After all, car dealers have been doing it for years.

“It’s not a zero-sum game,” said Tony Drockton, whose line of Hammitt handbags are often sold alongside used designer bags at Dillard’s and Von Maur department stores. “I own plenty of different brands of jeans and jackets and shirts and shoes. The smart consumer wants a nice assortment of new and secondhand.”

Monica Ricci says she buys almost everything secondhand. She scours thrift stores, yard sales and a growing crop of online shops such as Tradesy, Poshmark and ThreadUp for gently used items in search of a new home.

It saves money, the 54-year-old says – and more importantly, keeps clothing out of landfills.

“There is such glut of cheap, disposable fashion out there,” she said. “The last thing I want to do is contribute more waste.”


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