What If Buying Used Clothes Was as Easy as Buying New?
A new browser extension wants to make secondhand shopping easier by suggesting used options when a customer searches online for new clothes.
Finding exactly the type of clothing you want or need secondhand can be a slog. A new company called Beni aims to make the process easier by suggesting used items while a customer is shopping online for new ones. The goal, says Beni Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Sarah Pinner, is to make buying resale “as easy as buying new, so buying new isn’t just the default.” Beni was founded in May 2021, and its browser extension became available for public use in the US and UK in September. The startup has raised just over $1 million, with investors that include XYZ Venture Capital and Chingona Ventures.
Users begin by downloading the Beni browser extension, currently available on mobile for Safari as well as on the desktop versions of Chrome, Safari and Brave. As they’re shopping for shoes, sweaters or watches at apparel retailers online, running the Beni extension will suggest similar or identical secondhand products in a pop-up box. A click on any of those used items leads to a secondhand marketplace, where the user can get more information and buy the item directly — in which case Beni gets a cut.
Buying used, especially online, is only becoming more popular. In 2021, the global resale market hit $35 billion, up from $11 billion in 2012, according to ThredUp’s 2022 resale report, led by growth in online shopping. An estimated 41% of consumers reported looking at secondhand options first when shopping for clothing, per ThredUp, with Gen Z and millennials leading the way. Some big draws to resale include the cost, because buying used is often cheaper than buying new, and the environmental impact from prolonging the lifespan of an item before it ends up in a landfill.
Even so, there are many people intrigued by the world of resale who don’t want to “go scroll on eBay for three hours or kind of just learn this whole new way of shopping,” says Pinner. With Beni, she adds, “people are able to shop in ways that they’re comfortable with.” Nancy Bocken, a professor of sustainable business at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, agrees that “the curation of secondhand is one of the big barriers,” because it can take more time to “find the right size or style” of a given item in a secondhand marketplace.
“It remains to be seen if technologies that make secondhand more convenient will convince those who are currently ambivalent about it,” said Elisa Niemtzow, vice president of consumer sectors and global membership at the consulting company BSR. “But as one fifth of those who haven’t bought secondhand in the last year say it’s too much work to search for them,” she adds, citing The Harris Poll’s August survey on the topic, “that means there is [a] promising opportunity to convert some shoppers.”
Beni currently partners with more than 25 resale fashion marketplaces across the web, including eBay, the RealReal and Rent the Runway. “We can take inventory from their sites, and then use a combination of AI to surface it to the user while they’re shopping,” Pinner says. “Most brands that a user might be shopping on can use Beni.”
Teaming up with Beni “was a no-brainer for us,” says Dori Graff, co-founder and CEO of Kidizen, an online marketplace for upscale secondhand kids clothing and toys. “We do feel very strongly that resale in general just needs more awareness.” The fashion industry’s embrace of resale is, in part, a response to a consumer backlash against the rise of fast fashion and its enormous levels of waste. While more clothing is being produced now than ever, only a tiny fraction is actually recycled. Instead, most clothes and other textiles end up in landfills. According to ThredUp’s report, “65% of those who bought their first thrifted item a year ago say they want to quit buying fast fashion” and “43% of consumers who buy fast fashion say they feel guilty for wearing or purchasing fast fashion.” These “aspirational secondhand shoppers” are exactly who Pinner hopes Beni attracts.