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Researchers take a first look at Canada’s second-hand economy

The “Kijiji Index” looks at who is buying what online.

BY MARIE LAMBERT-CHAN | JUN 09 2015

Not long ago, many people regarded second-hand goods as being, well, second rate. But with the creation of classified-advertising websites, the current craze for all things retro, and environmental concerns, there appears to be less stigma attached to buying used goods today. Canadian consumers now spend $30 billion a year on second-hand consumer durables and semi-durables – which represents 15 percent of the total value of new articles purchased.

This is one of the conclusions of the new Kijiji Second-Hand Economy Index, which is reportedly the first attempt by Canadian researchers to measure this market for which there has been up to now very little or no data. To mark its 10th anniversary, the Kijiji classified-ads site commissioned the study from researchers at the school of management sciences at Université du Québec à Montréal (ESG UQAM) and University of Toronto.

“We evaluated the market in its totality, measuring both the acquisition and the disposal of objects by every means – donation, purchase, exchange, rental, loan, etc. – and across all channels, from electronic platforms to classic thrift shops,” explains Fabien Durif, director of ESG UQAM’s responsible consumption unit.

“We found that this is a pretty substantial market whose annual growth has been shooting up by 20 percent over the past six years,” adds Peter Spiro, an executive member of the Mowat Centre, a public policy think tank located at U of T’s school of public policy and governance.

On average, Canadians gave new life to 76 articles during the course of a year, acquiring 35 and getting rid of 41. Residents of the Prairies and Alberta are the second-hand champions, having given a second life to 115 and 106 articles respectively. Quebeckers bring up the rear with only 50 transactions over the past 12 months. Other discoveries: women and the young are most active on the second-hand market and the goods most frequently exchanged are garments, shoes and fashion accessories.

Consumers are mostly motivated by the idea of saving a few dollars by buying second-hand. However, when the time comes to get rid of stuff, they cite the ease of disposing of objects (thanks to the Internet) and the idea of taking action to benefit society and the environment. In other words, financial gain is not their primary concern.

The second-hand market is proving to be good for Canadians’ pocketbooks, allowing a four-person family to save $1,150 per year, according to the index. What’s more, money spent on this market contributes about $34 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product because it does not get spent on imports. “Not to mention the fact that we are prolonging the life of thousands of objects that do not end up prematurely in landfill,” says Mr. Spiro.

The Kijiji index will be updated every year and will explore trends in the market for second-hand objects in greater depth. “Over the coming months, we will be looking more closely at variations between habits in each province in order to understand the sociological and cultural reasons for the differences,” says Dr. Durif.

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