Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse explores the latest unsustainable sartorial scam on the re-selling app and helps you steer clear of poor quality and unethically-produced imported items.
WORDS Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse
When Depop first launched in 2011, founder and app developer Simon Beckerman admitted he anticipated his social media-style re-selling app would resonate well with young users. He did not, however, expect to have created the internet’s number one destination for teenage girls selling second-hand items from their wardrobe, amass over 18 million users – 90% of which are under 25 – and become a leading industry innovator in the sustainable fashion movement.
As the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns continue to devastate around the UK – with now an expected 1 in 10 Britons to have contracted the virus – more than ever before, we must remain indoors and continue social distancing until vaccine herd immunity saves our social lives and summer for good. But as the New Year arrives, so too does a new season of fashion. And while we may not be switching out of our sweatpants just yet, there’s no harm in searching for our new season must-haves a bit early, right?
It’s fair to say that the options are limited when it comes to sustainable sofa-surfing – you can scroll through hundreds of results pages on eBay if you’re brave enough, or score designer garb from Vestiaire Collective if you’ve got big bucks to spare – leading millions of young people to see Depop as the only option.
According to a ThredUp report, the second-hand retail market is predicted to grow to 1.5 times the size of the fast-fashion market by 2028, with resold items expected to make up 13% of our wardrobes. Depop’s current monopoly on the resale market could see stratospheric success for the app, but as we’ve come to expect after a year like 2020, not everything is always as rosy as it appears.
Plaguing the app and exploiting its reputation as a sustainable fashion hub, drop-shipping is the latest ‘entrepreneurial’ tactic to make sellers quick bucks and leaving unsuspecting customers receiving poor quality, unethically-produced items under the guise of reselling.
What is drop-shipping?
Drop-shipping is when a seller will find an ‘on trend’ product on a cheap overseas website, such as AliExpress or Wish.com, then set up a shop on a site such as Depop and list this item on their page for a higher price. When a customer then decides to buy that item on Depop, the seller goes back onto the first website and orders the cheap product directly to their customers’ address, pocketing the difference. The most important thing to note is that these Depop drop-shipping sellers never handle the product.
There is nothing really cool or fancy about the products that I launch, but it’s just because I learned the way to properly market them, that’s why they work.
When looking into drop-shipping, the sheer amount of material out there promoting this idea as a viable business model is truly shocking. Wanna-be sellers are inundated with website links and videos, not only showing them exactly how to rip-off customers, but now companies are offering support in setting up their money making drop-shipping ‘business’.
Depop has released a statement banning drop-shipping on their site, yet a quick scroll today finds that the practice is still prevalent on the app. So why then, even with this warning, are sellers still able to scam customers this way?
Further adding to the annoyance, (yes, there is something even more frustrating than blatantly ripping off unsuspecting customers), these drop-sellers see absolutely no wrong in what they do. They label themselves as business owners and flaunt their profits while openly encouraging others to do the same. Drop-shipping falls just within the parameters of a legal business model, however there are plenty of ethical violations that come along with the ‘get rich quick’ scheme.
Not only are they taking up space for genuine small businesses to operate as well as ripping off customers, they’re exploiting Depop’s reputation too.
The app was created with a pure intent, aiming to inspire young fashion lovers across the globe which in turn grew to become the one of the most accessible sustainable marketplaces, is now being co-opted by exploiters selling cheap items, made in an unethical way and which have to be shipped halfway across the world to reach their buyer.
Scrolling through the successful drop-shippers’ Instagram, TikTok and Youtube accounts, the self-titled ‘entrepreneurs’ make no effort in hiding their goal to make money, and flaunting the lavish lifestyles their success has afforded them. What’s worse, Business magazines and online blogs praise these drop-shippers tirelessly, and aspiring drop-shippers can find inspiration in the breakdown profiles of various ‘entrepreneurs’ boasting about how much profit they’ve made and how easy it is for others to do so too. And if these aspiring drop-shippers are feeling a little down about their work then a quick hop onto the web will allow them to read articles like ‘15 of the best dropshipping quotes to keep you inspired’ to remind them that they’re doing a great job of scamming unsuspecting customers.
As our community grows, we’ve decided that for the purpose of quality, creativity and sustainability, drop-shipped catalogue items are no longer allowed on Depop.
To get around these drop-shipping guidelines, many sellers have taken to bulk buying items off these cheaper, foreign websites to then resell on Depop. This means that they are handling the product, so technically are not partaking in drop-shipping, but with the same overall outcome.
Drop-shippers do not specify that their items are not sustainable, they do not share that they’re buying this clothing off websites that are known for stocking poor quality items that are made in factories where workers aren’t adequately treated. If you’re going onto Depop to buy clothing in an ethical way and are tricked into buying these incredibly un-sustainable and poorly made items, the app isn’t working efficiently.
The nature of drop-shipping opens up a dangerous avenue for fake and knock off items. This not only tricks potential customers into purchasing low quality, unethically-made products but also harms the profits of the original designers and brands as their customers find cheaper ways to access, what they believe to be, their products. When you see a knockoff item on a website such as Aliexpress, it’s easy to see that the item is not a ‘brand’ name, nor do they claim it to be. But when that item is then posted onto a site such as Depop and the price inflated, the lines blur and it becomes harder to tell whether or not you are buying something genuine.
There are many telltale signs that a Depop listing is for that of a drop-shipped item. The most obvious visual sign that a product is drop-shipped will be the images used to list the item on the site. Since drop-shippers don’t actually handle a product, all their listed items will be advertised using stock photos, often the exact same ones used on the original website that the product is sourced from. Those who bulk buy items to resell will also use stock images or ‘aesthetic’ images of celebrities and influencers wearing similar items to draw potential customers in. Messaging the sellers of these items to ask for more photos or more information on the product material or such will quickly help you determine if this is a genuine Depop seller. Drop-shippers will often dodge questions or reply with information already shared on the Depop listing itself.
Another trademark quality of drop-shipping on Depop is the amount of items and sizes they offer on their shop. In the description of each item, many drop-shippers and re-sellers will state that they have multiple sizes and then again multiples of each size – this is true as technically they have an endless supply of this product via the third-party website (AliExpress).
As is the nature of ordering from overseas sites, these drop-shipping listings will have long shipping times, usually ranging from 2-4 weeks. This can be written in the description of the item or in the sellers bio and is sometimes disguised as being because of the ‘popularity of the item’. It is important to note that many Depop shops who hand make their items to order will include a note about their longer shipping times – this doesn’t mean that they’re drop-shippers, it just means they’re making unique and handmade items!
Drop-shippers pride themselves on playing to the demands of trends and this is also where resellers shine. By buying out all the available stock on trendy items, resellers can sell an item for twice or three times its original price. We saw this recently with the Slazenger kids tennis skirt which retails in SportsDirect for £9 or two for £11, being sold on Depop in its masses for around double the original price. Because these resellers were draining the stock, customers who wanted the skirt had no choice but to pay more to these Depop sellers.
Similarly, drop-shippers see a trend taking off such as (fake) Dr Martens or the Y2K butterfly print and use the popularity of such an item to make as much profit as possible. Sweater vests are a big trend at the moment and a quick look on Depop will tell you as much, for example, these sweater vests on eBay which are priced at just under £10 each, are being sold in their masses on various Depop shops likethis one for anywhere between £15 and £30! If you’re in the market for an on-trend piece, compare the photos, descriptions and prices of Depop listings with items on traditional third party websites, such as AliExpress and eBay, to make sure you’re not being ripped off!
Drop-shipping is an issue for both consumers and for brands. While consumers are shelling out for products worth less than their ticket price, brands are being cheated out of profits as knockoffs are being pumped out to the public. Though Depop has spoken out and verbally denounced Depop shipping on their platform, there is more that needs to be done in order to police these guidelines and ensure that the site remains an accessible and sustainable hub for second-hand clothing.
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