It took me the most of a year to be convinced that parting with my beloved often unworn designer items online was the best method of participating in the circular economy while also freeing up closet space. Choosing from among the many resale platforms involved comparing the product assortment on each to determine if my pieces would be in the appropriate company, and thereby attract the right buyer. But I was ultimately seduced by The RealReal’s fuss-free White Glove service of a consultant coming to my home and whisking the pieces away, no photos, no mailing, no paperwork, no managing of returns on my part.
For my inaugural experience I listed 12 items, 10 of which have sold to date, predominantly selected to appeal to the holiday season consumer. The jewel of my consignment, and the one which caused the most separation anxiety, was an Alexander McQueen black chiffon dress with gathered bust and an internal corset, a lace-up motif on the hips and flared skirt constructed of delicate French lace godets. Previously unworn due to the fact that it had always been two sizes too big, it was made for an altogether bustier wearer. The dress had been photographed on the likes of Penelope Cruz and Winona Ryder, appeared on the designer’s Fall 2002 runway worn by Maggie Rizer, and is a beautiful example of the craft associated with McQueen when he was in the throes of his creativity for his “Supercalifragilistic” collection. In my research I’d seen the same item on sites such as 1st Dibs and eBay with a four-figure list price. However only professional dealers can sell on 1st Dibs and eBay would require that I undertake all of the photography, prep, listing and follow-up that I wanted to avoid.
Listing designer fashion on The RealReal
My major takeaway from the experience is that it’s a buyer’s not seller’s market. Those who attach sentiment to clothes or blurrily recall a time when fashion wasn’t disposable and sorted by algorithms should brace themselves before consigning online. But I had taken the plunge and there was no turning back. A Comme des Garçons checkerboard buffalo jacket sold immediately for 152 dollars and a See By Chloe trompe l’ceil top for 40 dollars. Both items included an automatic customer discount of 20 percent, which I hadn’t been expecting, so figuring in the site’s commission, I took home respectively 50 and 40 percent of their final prices. A McQueen devoré cherry print corset top, perfect for New Year’s parties, sold for 52 dollars (again with that 20 percent discount) so I limply pocketed 20 bucks. Then a brand new Marc Jacobs top complete with store tags went for a song, a Missoni patterned one-button jacket, sold, was returned, sold again, followed by a Missoni scarf––no problem with fit there, so no returns––and a pair of Dries Van Noten embroidered booties sold, were returned, sold again. A black Christian Dior dress with brass motif at the neckline remains unsold, but perhaps the most pleasant surprise of all concerned a second Dior item: a black La Cannage handbag, much used over the years as evidenced by the scuff marks on the perspex handles, yet it sold immediately.
But back to that McQueen dress: it has been returned twice, the second time right after New Year’s Eve which raised my suspicions that the buyer had worn it to a party, then sent it back. Third time lucky, the dress has sold again. It was priced at 345 dollars, went for 276 dollars of which I will earn 165 dollars. This particular set of ageist algorithms perhaps devalues the item for its vintage status. But it also ignores the signifiance of the intricate piece created for the runway by a revered designer who’s no longer with us. I might argue with algorithms that you can’t have the authenticity of a true McQueen if acceptable items must be from the last few years, but where would that get me?
So instead I reach out to The RealReal and am invited to speak with both their Head of Women's, Sasha Skoda, and Erin Santy, Head of Communications, about my experience. I have tried to summarize their responses into the four main categories around which my points center: pricing, commission, discounts and returns.
Skoda explains, “We aim to be fully transparent regarding the item’s resale value. It is in both of our interests to sell at the highest possible price within 30 days to ensure the consignors are getting paid as soon as possible. Our pricings are based on algorithms, item type, age, condition.”
I am informed that The RealReal welcomes dialogue with consignors, and if necessary would take a second look at pricing, and it’s suggested that consignors reach out to their luxury manager. “Our consignment team are standing by ready to assist, and to see if there’s an opportunity there, even if the item has already sold, we would relook.” This is valuable information. The luxury managers are the representatives who make the initial at-home evaluation. But in my case any follow-up communications had been via automated messages from The RealReal Service, not from a personalized email, which made the prospect of contacting my luxury manager less likely.
I was reminded that the consignment rates appear on a graph available on the website and that those rates reflect the level of work that The RealReal team puts in to make the consignment experience pain-free for the consignor. I had studied the graph often, but to be honest it only moves from being math to making sense when you see what price your items are listed at on the website. Skoda advises, “To actively engage with the circular economy and to graduate to higher tiers with better rates, the more you consign, the more you earn. Items under 200 dollars will get lower commission.”
The automatic 20 percent discount applied to most of my listed items (which increased to 25 percent on many within the month) recalls the practice of big box stores which offer codes, coupons and discounts as an incentive to customers but came as a surprise to me as a consignor. Skoda explains, “Discounts are based on pricing algorithms. The resale value plays into eligibility for discount. It’s a great conversation to have with your luxury manager who can inform you of which items will be discounted up front.” But as someone who didn’t want the time-consuming work associated with listing on the other popular sites, likewise I don’t relish seeking out my manager for follow-up conversations on topics that could be addressed in person at the home visit stage. Skoda adds, “We do protect our most covetable items from discount––current season Gucci, Rolex watches––but it’s on an item by item basis, and is an additional lever to help your item sell.”
I voice my concern that the consumer may have sneakily partied in my McQueen, and wonder how The RealReal protects the unworn status of consigned items like this one while allowing for a satisfactory return policy: “When we ship we affix a large return tag to the item and that tag must be untouched upon return so the item cannot have been worn. It's a big and very visible exterior tag, so no one would wear an item with it attached, and we don't accept returns if the tag isn't untouched. We think about both the consignor and customer experience. Fit is the biggest issue when purchasing online and a great return policy is a big motivating factor for customers. There is no return on handbags as there is no fit issue. But if something is returned, and its integrity damaged, again we welcome that dialogue. We will always work with our consignors.”
With 11 million items sold to date, the site is one of the most important in the resale market. However it seems that even time-constrained consignors like me who want the most trouble-free experience might have to schedule in some follow-up or explanatory conversations post-consignment. Human to human communication is encouraged, and often necessary.
On the subject of communication, I have just received an email from The RealReal informing me that they have selected 12 items picked just for me: among them is the Christian Dior dress I consigned that still hasn’t found a home. Those pesky algorithms again.
Just before my writing deadline, the Assistant Director of Consignor Relations at The RealReal reached out to say that Skoda and Santy had passed my case along and after having her pricing team re-evaluate both the Alexander McQueen top and dress, found that, “The initial pricing was set based on data from comparable item sales -- on average McQueen dresses resell for under 400 dollars. In examining further data from additional pieces with similarly detailed construction and era, our team concluded both items should have commanded a higher price. While our quality control team does closely monitor pricing, these were clearly exceptions that were overlooked -- and we of course want to work with you to make this right.”
The price of the McQueen top has been raised from $65 to $245 and the pricing of the McQueen dress from 345 to 875 dollars and will be added to my upcoming commission payment.
Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.
Photo: FashionUnited and Alexander McQueen Fall 2002 via Catwalkpictures.