Second hand markets flourish all across China

China's second hand market has been thriving in recent years with the sales of used goods exceeding 1 trillion yuan in 2020.


Hanfu lovers exchange experience on making hair clasps at the second hand hanfu market in Beijing in April. [Photo provided to China Daily]

October 7, 2022

BEIJING – It was a regular Friday in August when Wang An considered taking a stroll around her workplace in downtown Beijing. She chose a nearby recycling shop.

After spending half an hour in the second hand books and clothes shop, Wang bought a hardcover original version of Harry Potter Film Wizardry.

“It was the first time I visited here. I’m quite interested in Harry Potter recently and this book is not found in other places,so I bought one when I happened to see it,”she said.

Renovated from an old factory in the Sanlitun area, the store was opened by an online used books trading platform called deja vu early this year. The 1,000-square-meter place displays more than 10,000 second hand books and about 1,300 pieces of used clothes the company recycled.

Wang is not only a “buyer” but also a”seller” at deja vu and other online platforms of second hand goods. Through Idle Fish, an online flea market, she has earned about 20,000 yuan ($2,897) from reselling a treadmill, a baby crib and other stuff.

“For me, trading second hand products is a good option to deal with stuff that I no longer need,” she said.

The newly opened Beijing outlet of deja vu sits in the bustling Sanlitun area. [Photo provided to China Daily]

China’s second hand market has been thriving in recent years with the sales of used goods exceeding 1 trillion yuan in 2020. A report released last year by consulting company Frost & Sullivan and the Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy at Tsinghua University expected sales to reach nearly 3 trillion yuan in 2025.

Adam Minter, author of Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade and Second hand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale, said one reason behind China’s booming second hand business is because many Chinese households had acquired far more stuff than they needed after 30 years of hyper-charged consumption.

China’s younger consumers haven’t inherited their parents’ disdain for second hand goods, he added in an opinion article published on the website of Bloomberg.

QuestMobile, a research firm, said China’s mobile internet users aged between 25 to 35 are the main group behind the surge in online second hand transactions,particularly those in first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

Second hand books attract a customer in deja vu recycling store in Shanghai. [Photo provided to China Daily]

This is echoed by Huang Bilian, the store manager of deja vu’s Beijing outlet.

“A large majority of visitors to the store are our online platform users. They are mainly young people who are willing to follow trends and explore new ways of life,” Huang said.

Huang said the reason deja vu opened physical stores is because “we hope more people will be willing to get involved in the online recycling of second hand goods when they know how the used goods look like after being recycled.”

Early last year, deja vu opened its first recycle store in Shanghai. Located on Anfu road, a locale frequently visited by young people, the store has become a popular photo spot with nearly 10,000 visitors a week.

“Through second hand books trade, you can buy a book that someone else does not need for the time being. Once you finish reading, it can still be resold again. The book is circulated in this way and nothing is wasted during the process,” Huang said.

Vendors get together for a fair in deja vu’s newly opened recycling store in Beijing in January. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Low-carbon lifestyle

The trading of second hand goods can also effectively promote the efficient use of recyclable resources in China, thus helping the country to achieve its goal of peaking carbon emissions and achieving carbon neutrality.

The second hand trade of a mobile phone can reduce at least 25 kilograms of carbon emissions while that of a household refrigerator can reduce it by 130 kilograms, based on calculations in a report jointly released by Frost & Sullivan and the Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy at Tsinghua University.

Hu Xinyue, a 27-year-old advocate of a low-carbon lifestyle, was pleased with her purchase of a small electric fan and a water bottle. Both are second hand goods.

The water bottle, which happens to be in her favorite color, had been put aside by the seller for almost half a year before Hu bought it from the online flea market Idle Fish.

Hu shared this experience with more than 7,000 followers on her account at the social media platform Little Red Book.

She has been actively giving tips on how to reduce the use of plastic goods in daily life since she opened the account in December last year. Buying second hand goods, clothes and household appliances is a good option, Hu suggested.

“After the Singles Day shopping spree in November last year, I was surprised to see that cartons and plastic bags were discarded everywhere in my living compound. I’m afraid that we will have to live with trash in the future if we don’t take any action now to protect the Earth, so I decided to start with myself,” she said.

Hu has received positive feedback from both online followers and friends in real life, telling her that they have been encouraged by her to live a more low-carbon lifestyle.

Customers visit a deja vu recycling store in Shanghai.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Niche products

Besides durable consumables, some second hand niche products are also gaining increasing popularity in China.

Sun Yaxu, 41, is an organizer of vendors selling handmade decorations, delicate accessories and other gadgets that young people might be interested in at a nighttime open-air fair in Beijing’s Panjiayuan Antique Market, the largest and most popular such market in Beijing.

“I began to cooperate with Panjiayuan last year because the market hopes to attract more young people. Generally speaking, its consumers are mostly middle-aged and seniors who like antiques,”Sun said.

Sun initiated a two-day second hand market of hanfu, traditional Chinese attire, in April. Fans of hanfu as well as visitors of Panjiayuan were attracted to sell and buy different styles of clothes, hair decorations and accessories.

Hanfu lover Song Bowen is one of some 20 vendors who participated in it and sold four suits of hanfu in a single day. “We usually exchange second hand hanfu at online platforms. The market offers an opportunity for buyers to check the quality of the dresses and try them on.”

Guan Tao, 29 is the only vendor selling vintage Chinese accessories at the hanfu market.

Obsessed with a deep interest for ancient Chinese silver jewelry, he had collected a lot of fine items from antique markets across the country in the past few years.

“It’s a fascinating thing to speculate who used to own a piece of jewelry by studying its design with a combination of historical records,” he said.

The hobby that was once considered by Guan’s parents as “incapable of feeding him” has now become a business that earned him about 8,000 yuan during the two-day second hand hanfu market alone.

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