Second-hand items… Buying them is not appropriating them!

With an average of more than 2 million visitors at the « Braderie de Lille » (an annual street market in the city of Lille, France) or a 300% sales growth between 2016 and 2017 for Vinted, an online second-hand marketplace for clothes, the second-hand items market is certainly doing well.

Whether it is for financial reasons, hedonism or a genuine appeal for a better consumption, this buying behavior is widespread nowadays. Still, when buying a second-hand item, acquiring ownership doesn’t necessarily equates with appropriating it immediately. Aurélie Dehling and Eric Vernette question this process in an article published in Recherche et Applications en Marketing about appropriability in the second-hand buying process. An immersive study has been led for 11 months in Quebec, allowing them to offer a definition of the concept of appropriability as being « the higher or lower potential for an object to become the full possession of a consumer ». It also allows them to bring out the elements influencing appropriability as well as the various phases of the process.

1200px-lille_f_watteau_la_braderie
‘La Braderie’ by François Watteau, 1799-1800

Appropriability of a second-hand item, a clever mix of purchase motivation and “traces” left by the previous owner

As the name suggests, a second-hand item has had a life before being bought… Its “previous life” has an influence on its potential appropriability. The more the item is « marked » by previous owners, the more its appropriation by new ones is bound to be difficult. This result can be moderated by the category of item involved: street or sport clothing, underwear, household linen or jewellery are difficult or impossible to appropriate, unlike IT equipment, tools, home appliances or sporting equipment.

Appropriability also depends, for a significant part, on the motivation for purchasing second-hand. More precisely, four categories of motivation have been identified in this study:

  • Constraint linked to financial hardship
  • Struggle against consumer society
  • Individual efficiency in a merchant system
  • Leisure or recreational pursuit.

The authors demonstrate that the more utilitarian consumers’ motivations are for buying second-hand, the more they tend to positively evaluate the appropriability potential. On the contrary, the more hedonist motivations are, the more they will devaluate this potential.

Second-hand items appropriation as a two-step process

This research identifies two distinct phases in the second-hand items appropriation process. The first one, called « distanciation » (mise à distance), seeks to erase concretely and symbolically the previous owners’ traces. The second one, called « self-placing » (mise en soi), consists in making the item its own and really appropriating it. Three strategies can be observed:

  • Denial : appropriating by occulting
  • Creativity : appropriating by imagining
  • Control : appropriating by knowledge and know-how

The intensity and duration of these phases are influenced by the prominence of prior traces for distanciation and by the purchase motivation for self-placing.

By shedding a new light on this type of consumption, this article opens interesting research perspectives. It also is a wealth of information for online and off-line platforms in the second-hand market, especially about the rôle they could play in the process of appropriability.

Dehling, A., & Vernette, E. (2019). Appropriability: Theorisation essay on the role of appropriation in the second-hand item purchase process. Recherche et Applications En Marketing (English Edition).

Blog post adapted from Pauline Folcher’s (in French)

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