From barter to second-hand sales, the paradoxes of collaborative consumption among young people


Collaborative consumption tends to upset the established patterns of buy-sell models, gradually erasing the boundaries between producers and consumers. More concretely, if its contours are difficult to define, a consensus is emerging to define collaborative consumption as a system of redistribution between individuals based on the exchange, barter, donation or even the purchase and sale of second-hand products. .

Clothing represents a particularly dynamic sector in the field and many second-hand online platforms now offer alternatives to fast fashion, anchoring their promises in a search for sobriety and the fight against waste, favorable to the planet.

The study we are currently conducting shows that young people have invested in these platforms according to various and non-exclusive motivations. It highlights the paradoxes that govern collaborative consumption between consumerist values ​​and responsible practices.

Multiple motivations

For some young people, online platforms fulfill the desire to become contributors to sustainability, buying only the products they need, in line with often limited budgets. For others, these platforms allow access to vintage pieces, from previous series, in order to avoid standardized fashion leading to uniform looks. For still others, frequenting these platforms represents an opportunity to acquire desirable, even iconic, brands at an affordable price.

The abundant choice displayed on the platforms also encourages “serial shopper” behaviors among them and the purchasing practices linked to online purchases then replace traditional shopping, making it possible to overcome the constraints of mobility with offers from all over the world. Finally, others are sensitive to the practical side of these business models which allow group purchases in the form of lots, vectors of good deals and time savings.

Overall, if at the base these platforms are intended to empower consumers by encouraging them to adopt virtuous behavior for the environment, the hedonic, recreational and social logics that animate these virtual spaces transform them into real playgrounds. for young people, familiar with consumerist codes and values, who develop collecting practices there.

The collector likes to surround himself with objects . The latter therefore contribute to the construction of its identity because, according to Belk, the goods circumscribed in a collection are understood as an extension of oneself. The collection induces a singular curiosity with regard to things and an ability to perceive the value of objects and subjects the enthusiast to a permanent quest to complete his collection. The tendency to accumulation thus appears as one of the corollaries of the collection.

As Baudrillard points out, for a collector , a single object is not enough, it must be integrated into a series to reveal all the meaning given to it by its recipient. This appetite for researching products therefore nourishes a skill in finding out about new products, in selecting, in prioritizing objects according to the value that the connoisseur places on them.

This expertise drawn from the quest for objects is frequently coupled with social motivations. These combine social ties in the form of discussions, exchange of goods combined with rivalries between enthusiasts to acquire the coveted objects.

In search of the unique piece

According to the logic of ATAWAD (Any Time, Anywhere, Any Device) that characterizes millennials, second-hand platforms are part of their way of life and are embodied in the almost daily consultation of offers. Instant access to millions of fashionable clothes and accessories instils in them a feeling of abundance as well as a call to hoard. They develop skills specific to the collection, essentially linked to deciphering the value of the garment offered, around signals such as the price, the symbolic significance of the brand or the rarity of the product. This scarcity is a major concern that guides their social connections on the platforms.

Thus, the perceived rarity elevates certain garments to the status of unique pieces on these platforms. It encourages young people to set up monitoring strategies, materialized by alerts, trackers, follow-ups of members of the platform with the same clothing tastes and a similar silhouette. They are also led to consult social networks to be informed very early on of future deposits that influencers announce to their subscribers on their accounts.

Second-hand platforms are thus integrated into a digital ecosystem designed as a privileged territory to satisfy materialistic tendencies that appear very far removed from environmental issues.

However, behind these contradictions there is undoubtedly a desire to be more selective in the choice of products purchased. This selectivity is based on the many tensions that drive consumption between pleasure purchase, rational purchase, responsible purchase… with which this generation is particularly confronted.

Our research highlights the paradoxes that govern collaborative consumption among young people. However, by having recourse to second-hand platforms, young people seem to claim their attraction for products or brands that are vectors of meaning and the collection as a form of consumption that is both materialistic and symbolic undoubtedly offers a reading grid. to understand this complexity.

Author Bio: Pascale Ezan is a University Professor – consumer behavior – food – social networks at Le Havre Normandy University