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C2C e-commerce: A look at the growing consumer-to-consumer market

This multi-billion-dollar (and growing) market is proving that secondhand is by no means second best. Here’s what you need to know.

Consumer-to-consumer e-commerce is no lockdown loaf

The e-commerce surge during the COVID-19 pandemic made lots of headlines. While brick-and-mortar stores struggled to move business online, established B2C e-commerce marketplaces took full advantage of their competitive edge. And sales soared. For example, McKinsey reports that Amazon’s sales in 2020 rose 51% in the UK and 32% in Germany, setting records in both countries.

But another e-commerce sector was also booming, albeit more quietly: consumer-to-consumer (C2C) e-commerce. C2C sites like the UK’s Gumtree and France’s leboncoin enjoyed over 50% growth in 2020. Lithuania’s Vinted saw 65% revenue growth from 2020 to 2021.

It appears that while some people took up painting, gardening, or baking (lockdown loaf, anyone?), others used the time at home to declutter and sell unwanted items. And they found many eager buyers. But even though the pandemic is behind us, the trend continues. Experts see opportunities for continued growth and innovation. In Europe alone, forecasts show consumer-to-consumer business taking up half the e-commerce market.

So why is secondhand increasingly becoming people’s first choice? And where is the room for even more growth? Let’s clean out the closet and have a look.

C2C e-commerce then and now

The consumer-to-consumer market has essentially been around since trade began, so it’s no surprise that it went online not long after the internet made it possible. eBay launched almost 30 years ago in 1995, only four years after the World Wide Web became publicly available.

Today, online platforms where buyers can sell and sellers can buy are everywhere. Etsy, Facebook Marketplace, Depop, and Taobao are just a few of the most popular sites around the world, in addition to the ones named above.


Share of C2C in Chinese e-commerce market


Forecast share of C2C in EU e-commerce market by 2025


Of Gen Z consumers value sustainability when shopping online


Of C2C e-commerce buyers are Gen Z

Why does consumer-to-consumer work?

The main reason is that people like to save money – and with recent soaring inflation around the world, that’s top of mind for many buyers. “Pre-loved” items are cheaper, and most C2C e-commerce platforms charge little or no fees to buyers and sellers, which keeps prices low.

Both buyers and sellers also enjoy the convenience of C2C marketplaces. Sellers don’t have to hassle finding potential buyers, and buyers no longer have to spend hours picking through their local secondhand shop, flea market, or neighborhood yard sale for hidden treasures. Instead, they can go online and quickly search for exactly what they’re looking for, even hard-to-find items. The flexibility is also appealing. Many consumers are both buyers and sellers on the same platform.

Today shoppers are increasingly buying secondhand with sustainability in mind. A McKinsey survey found that on average 38% of shoppers in Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK buy secondhand goods to reduce waste. For example, positive fashion is a huge trend, and extending the life of clothing can reduce carbon emissions, prevent old clothes from piling up in landfills, and conserve resources, like water and energy. 


Examples of consumer-to-consumer e-commerce

We’ve already named several examples of C2C e-commerce marketplaces, but how do these sites work? What’s the business model? Traditionally C2C sites have been free to buyers, following eBay’s lead. Today there are a variety of business models to monetize C2C platforms, most of which are still free to buyers. But even that has changed in recent years.

Seller fees model

Sellers pay a fee to list their products. Examples include eBay and Etsy.

Advertising-based model

Buyers and sellers don’t pay fees; revenue comes from third-party advertising. This model includes eBay Kleinanzeigen in Germany,  Gumtree in the UK, and Facebook Marketplace.

Additional services model

The platforms offer added services, such as buyer protection or certificates of authenticity, for an additional fee. One example is Vestiaire Collective, a luxury fashion resale marketplace.

Buyer fees model

Buyers pay a small fee above the listed price, while sellers can list their products for free. This model has been gaining traction recently (more on that below). Examples include Wallopop and Vinted.

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Is there room for growth in C2C e-commerce?

Will the trend continue? The experts think so. The market for reselling – also known as recommerce – is expected to grow from €75 billion in 2021 to €120 billion by 2025. That’s because more and more big players across all e-commerce categories are getting into the C2C game, and consumers of all ages – especially the youngest – are becoming big fans.

Fashion is currently the fastest-growing sector in C2C e-commerce, followed closely by family goods such as toys. Well-known European fashion e-tailers like Zalando and NA-KD have already tapped into the potential of C2C, giving their customers the option to resell their “pre-loved” items on their own integrated C2C platforms.

As buying options increase, so does the pool of buyers. Although consumers of all ages buy and sell used items online, Gen Z will probably top the C2C charts. Some 32% shop online at least once daily, and they could account for 47% of the C2C market volume by 2025. Millennials, who are on track to lead ecommerce sales globally in 2023, will also be huge C2C sales drivers. That’s right, the generation of kids who grew up hanging out at the mall is today’s biggest online shopping demographic. 

Source: McKinsey

A model for even more growth

As the consumer-to-consumer market grows, we’re seeing a shift towards the buyer-fee model – a move that is flipping C2C e-commerce on its head. The traditional model targeted buyers: Attract as many buyers to your site as possible, and the sellers will naturally show up and pay the listing fees. But now, as C2C e-commerce companies discover the benefit of more inventory, we’re seeing more examples of the buyer-fee model. By reducing barriers for sellers, the site attracts more and naturally increases inventory. In turn, the wider selection of products brings in more buyers.

The success of this model can be seen at the leading secondhand fashion platform Vinted – where sellers list items for free. Vinted is one of the hottest C2C e-commerce sites on the market, which is a massive indication that this model works. 

How can C2C e-commerce marketplaces stand out?

With so many models, online shops looking to capitalize on the C2C e-commerce market may struggle to gain a competitive edge and stand out. One way to do that is logistics. At DHL, we can confidently say that getting logistics right can lead to increased e-commerce sales.

Promising to deliver goods safely and on time is a huge deal for online shoppers, and that’s no different in the C2C market. Across all e-commerce models, research has found that 65% of shoppers abandon their carts if shipping is too slow or expensive.

To prevent that from happening, the top players turn to third-party logistics providers to handle their order fulfillment and help grow their business. Outsourcing logistics helps them flex with short-term fluctuations and scale with sustained growth.

For example, C2C e-commerce companies in Europe’s Benelux region can use our fleet of almost 2,500 electric vans, 4,000 service points, and 1,000 parcel lockers. This can reduce costs and increase options while also making transport greener.

C2C e-commerce businesses already play up the environmental benefits of buying pre-loved goods, but reliable and sustainable logistics can add to that value proposition. Sustainability is a crucial driver for secondhand sales, especially among younger generations, so why not make your business as sustainable as your products?

Secondhand is not second best

E-commerce is a big part of our business – we move more than a billion parcels each year. An increasing share of that business is in the C2C e-commerce market. For example, secondhand clothing is one of our fastest-growing segments.

With an insatiable appetite among young people to make sustainable choices when shopping, we see a lot of untapped potential – for both B2C and C2C e-commerce businesses. Buyers of secondhand goods often expect and value the types of services they get when purchasing new items online. B2C companies can leverage established operations to expand their business and provide more options for customers (e.g., Patagonia’s Worn Wear site). C2C players can up their game with additional services like shipping options and faster order fulfillment, following Vinted and other market leaders.

The numbers don’t lie, and it looks like this multi-billion-dollar market will continue to grow – proving that secondhand is hardly second best. 

DHL eCommerce

Enabling e-commerce across the globe

Published: June 2023

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