Will thredUP make Macy’s more thrifty?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Aug 15, 2019
George Anderson

ThredUP bills itself as the largest online thrift store. Soon it may also call itself the largest online thrift store inside the biggest department store chain in the U.S. On yesterday’s earnings call with analysts, Macy’s, Inc. CEO Jeff Gennette said the company’s namesake department store chain is engaged in a 40-store pilot with thredUP to sell second-hand clothing. 

“We know many consumers are passionate about sustainable fashion and shopping resale,” said Mr. Gennette. “This partnership gives us the opportunity to reach a new customer (Millennials and Gen Z) and keep them coming back to shop an ever-changing selection of styles and brands that we don’t typically carry.”

Mr. Gennette said that Macy’s is trying to reach beyond its core and more frequently attract younger consumers who fall into the chain’s “occasional customer” bucket. The pilot with thredUP, as well as the chain’s STORY in-store concept and other tactical initiatives, are part of Macy’s strategy to offer the merchandise and shopping experiences that will do just that.

ThredUP’s annual report released in March showed that the apparel resale market has grown 21 times faster than new clothing sales over the past three years. Annual revenues are projected to reach $51 billion by 2023, up from $24 billion at present, driven by sustainability-minded Millennials and Gen Zers.

Macy’s CEO said the thredUP test, to this point, has shown that it doesn’t pose any significant threat to the new merchandise stores typically sell to the chain’s core customers. The department store provides thredUP with list of merchandise it does not want to sell to avoid conflicts with current suppliers.

To date, Mr. Gennette said that the presence of 500-square-foot thredUP shops have had no discernable impact on Macy’s Backstage discount sales in those locations.

Mr. Gennette told analysts that Macy’s in tinkering with selling thredUP merchandise in various parts of its stores to see where it drives the most sales. He said that the companies would have a full read on the success of the partnership by the end of the fall.

J.C. Penney has also announced plans to conduct a similar 30-store test with thredUp in its stores. The in-store shops in Penney will range between 500- and 1,000-square-feet. 

“With the rise of online resale markets, there’s no doubt that demand for great value on quality brands is at an all-time high. There’s an emotional thrill that comes with finding one-of-a-kind secondhand product for much less,” said Michelle Wlazlo, executive vice president and chief merchant for Penney, in a statement. “While there are more secondhand shoppers than ever before, we’ll continue to test and evaluate how this resonates with customers. We’re excited about the prospect of creating a new in-store experience that makes high-end brands attainable, as well as catering to eco-minded consumers who want more sustainable options in their wardrobe.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of Macy’s partnership with thredUP and its place in the chain’s strategy to attract younger customers? Do you find it credible that the sale of thrift clothing will not cut into Macy’s sales of new apparel?

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20 Comments on "Will thredUP make Macy’s more thrifty?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust
This partnership can’t do any harm for Macy’s and it is great exposure for thredUP. I give Macy’s credit for looking at how they can use space more effectively and what new concepts and ideas – such as off-price, resale and curated areas – are needed in a modern department store. However, all these things are still about tinkering at the edges. Macy’s has done very little to address the core issues with its main departments which look tired, lack inspiration, and are badly configured in terms of how modern consumers shop. Investment and new thinking are desperately needed here. The addition of small concepts to a handful of stores will not remedy these deep-seated problems. In fact, sometimes the addition of new areas makes things worse. I was in a store in Arizona this past weekend where a new Backstage had been added. The department looked good and was buzzy. However, it looked better than the rest of the store. Think about that: the discount, off-price part looks and feels better than the full… Read more »
Art Suriano
BrainTrust
The partnership with thredUP is excellent and may help Macy’s attract some younger customers and make some sales, but Macy’s has got to start looking at the bigger picture. Recently reporting a drop in sales shows that they have many problems. First, they still have a brand name but they lack a definition of what that brand stands for from years of focusing too much on discounting. Many stores could change the Macy’s name outside to Kohl’s, and customers would believe them. Second, Macy’s has a massive problem with poor customer service. Too often in their stores, there is no service because there aren’t any associates available to help. Moreover, finding an open register is a challenge. Technology is providing so many opportunities, and Macy’s needs to lead the department store charge by reinventing themselves with exciting merchandise, customer support with sufficient well-trained staff, and technology to enhance the shopping experience. As for their web presence, all retailers that have stores must realize their website business works much better when the company has their stores up to par. Customers who shop… Read more »
Scott Norris
Guest

As we say all the time in Minneapolis/St. Paul, “I want my Dayton’s back!”

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I like this idea, I especially like that Macy’s will display the thredUP merchandise in various parts of the sales floor instead of creating one static department.

Other department stores have added resale items at high price points; thredUP offers these as well, but also sells affordable items that may be more attractive to the younger consumers Macy’s hopes to attract. It will be interesting to see which clothing and price points Macy’s chooses for the thredUP areas. Resale is hot right now. This partnership is another example of how Macy’s is moving past the stoic department store perception.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Macy’s is becoming exhibit “A” in illustrating the now excruciatingly painful evolution of the mall and department store. Which Macy’s will you be shopping in today? Branded and on sale? Last Act? Backstage? Story? Or now thredUP? Decisions, decisions. I’ve understood the logic and the testing mentality behind all these initiatives, but step back and what do we now see? Macy’s is a mini-mall of different product and levels of discount. I’m the first to say I like a “treasure hunt” environment, but I am starting to scratch my head a little at the evolution of the Macy’s brand promise.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

You’ve hit upon a key insight Jeff. Just what is “Macy’s?” It’s okay, IMO, to change its agreement with its customers but that has to be done strategically, clearly and in a way that customers prefer the new agreement or promise. As I’ve tried to say this morning, it’s dangerous to play or “tinker” with a long established brand promise.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

I love that Mr. Gennette has been testing the waters and I love many of the concepts however I, too, think it’s time to paint a cohesive picture of the brand for the customer. Let’s see how and where thredUP gets the best bang and then work on the overall look and feel. For my 2 cents.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

This may just be what thredUP needs. I shop there regularly but haven’t ever purchased anything because those white mannequins make even designer apparel look dismal. Perhaps in-store merchandising is the answer.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

It’s a win for thredUP more than Macy’s. The more department stores try to not be department stores the more they shoot themselves in the foot. Many of these ideas are a distraction from the real problem – they haven’t solved the problem of not knowing how to sell their full- priced merchandise. Same for Nordstrom and their Local initiative.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
The one word that should be highlighted in this story was spoken by CEO Jeff Gennette. That word is “tinkering.” It’s rather refreshing to hear such honesty. Some days I get the impression that the entire retail world is in this “tinkering” mode. It’s not a strategy per se, it’s a hope that there’s a silver bullet out there somewhere so let’s try anything and everything until something sticks. This just might pay off so part of me admires the “tinker” though blending the new and used/old is not really an innovative idea. Car dealers sell new and used cars, bakeries have “day old” shelves, and golf stores have new and used equipment, all with considerable success. My word of caution, however, is that Macy’s should not merely tinker with this idea. Either do it with energy, zeal and commitment, or don’t! The universe seems to evaluate just how much we actually want a new reality before it begins to move in our direction. Five-hundred square feet of used clothes says that Macy’s isn’t all… Read more »
Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Yoda knows. And by the way, Macy’s is Sharing this with JCP. And if both JCP and Macy’s want to expand this initiative, then thredUP can feed that pipeline, along with their own website? It will be an interesting supply and demand dynamic.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Didn’t know that. Now that makes this a much more interesting initiative. Key is to have each component of that pipeline do its work superbly. A great possibility is emerging from the retail mist. Thanks Jeff.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

This is the first good idea I have seen a department store execute in some time. I really like it. It is all positive. Positive in attracting a new consumer. Positive for utilizing ROI on real estate. And positive in re-defining what a department store is for.

Shikha Jain
BrainTrust

Two key questions will determine whether the partnership is a success:

  • Does thredUP help drive traffic to the Macy’s store that is either purely incremental or increases trip frequency of the current Macy’s shoppers?
  • Will having thredUP help sell Macy’s merchandise once those shoppers are in the store?

If the answer to either of these questions is no, then this move may not work.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

Adding on to Shikha’s questions, what will make the target audience want to shop at Macy’s for resale versus the hip, cool, established local resale shops as well as Plato’s Closet, Buffalo Exchange and others that have hipsters selecting what to put on the floor? And providing local authenticity, easy in and out parking and shoppers that are squarely in their tribes? Even Goodwill has become hip, and this is a trend now well established.

I also love Macy’s tinkering but, like so much happening there, I wish it was explored years ago.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Excellent news for thredUP. Possibly a treasure hunt for second-hand warriors? Which is counterintuitive to Macy’s reason for being. Margins will be slim. There also exists the inherent risk of second-hand clothes hanging next to new looking tired and worn. thredUP is not vintage apparel, which is too bad. thredUP is a gateway to one of a kind past-season novelty items. I get the merchandising idea of spreading thredUP offerings throughout the store, but really, a rack here and there of used clothes. Again counterintuitive to Macy’s reason for existence.

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust

Very smart move by Macy’s and I’m pleasantly surprised to see that J.C. Penney is hopping on the resale bandwagon as well. The thrifting trend isn’t going away anytime soon.

However for thredUP stores within Macy’s to be successful, they will need to offer products at lower price points than some of Macy’s Backstage items. thredUP has been silently raising prices on some of their brand name items and, in some cases, they are selling products at higher prices than Nordstrom Rack.

Sure, customers can still feel good about buying sustainably at higher price points. But consumers aren’t going to stay as excited about buying secondhand if ThredUp gets greedy as they expand their empire.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Wisdom from a Millennial consumer who actually shops on thredUP. Your comments, Jasmine, about price points are right on!

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Penneys announced today that they are offering ThreadUp too. Is the market that big to support multiple places to get used clothing? I don’t think so.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Too much availability will make it less special. Or as Rich always says, “Everyone sells underwear.” Make it a commodity and kids won’t want it any more.

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