Secondhand fashion site The RealReal shares rise in debut

NEW YORK (AP) — Shares of The RealReal jumped on their first day of trading Friday, as the secondhand-fashion online retailer tests investors’ appetite for the staying power of online marketplaces for pre-owned discounted Gucci and other luxury goods.

The San Francisco company, founded in 2011 by CEO Julie Wainwright, debuted on the Nasdaq Stock Market and is listed under the ticker “REAL.” Late Thursday, the initial public offering of 15 million shares was priced at $20 a share, above an expected range of $17 to $19 a share. That would raise $300 million before expenses.

The stock surged 44.5 %, closing the day at $28.90.

The RealReal says it’s the world’s largest online marketplace for authenticated, consigned luxury goods. Its total revenue was $207.4 million last year, up 55% compared with 2017. As of the end of March, it offered more than 620,000 unique authenticated pre-owned luxury items bearing the brands of more than 5,500 luxury and top designers.

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But it hasn’t made a profit and its losses widened to nearly $76 million last year, up from $42 million in the previous year, according to its prospectus filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The move to go public comes as online marketplaces that sell used clothing and other items are flourishing as a new generation of younger shoppers don’t want to pay full price. They also are more conscious about the environment.

While shoppers for years have been buying and selling used discounted designer items at thrift shops and on eBay, this latest generation of secondhand online retailers make the shopping experience easier, with new technology and services.

Poshmark, an online retailer of secondhand clothing, expanded earlier this month into home decor with items including bedding and bath. Online rival ThredUP is opening physical stores.

Meanwhile, Neiman Marcus in April bought a minority stake in resale site Fashionphile. As part of this deal, at select Neiman Marcus stores, customers are able to not only receive an immediate quote for their items from Fashionphile but also payments they can spend immediately on new luxury items at the store. Neiman Marcus says it will not be selling any preowned merchandise at its stores.

The RealReal Inc. offers a “white glove” service where consignors, those who are selling their used designer goods, make an appointment with one of its luxury managers and receives a complimentary consultation at their home. It also operates 11 luxury consignment offices in key cities like New York and Los Angeles. It also operates three stores — two in New York and one in Los Angeles.

The RealReal says it has been able to build trust among its customers. It says it employs more than 100 gemologists, horologists, brand experts and art curators and says that its authenticators are highly trained, experienced experts in their respective fields. The company says that as buyers become consignors and vice versa, it creates a “unique flywheel that further accelerates our momentum.” Through March 31, 53% of its consignors are buyers and 13% of its buyers are consignors, according to the prospectus.

“The sustainability of this model is going to hinge on their ability to do two key factors,” said Alex Fitzgerald, manager in the consumer and retail practice of global consultancy A.T. Kearney. “As they grow, can they continue to offer enough high quality, interesting luxury items to meet demand and keep shoppers coming back for more? And will they be able to maintain their commitment to authentication which is essential to making the online consignment model work?”

During a phone interview with The Associated Press, Wainwright said that she’s confident about the company’s ability to get regular supplies of luxury goods and “monetize it fast” and add authentication.

“We are setting growth as a priority, but not growth at any cost,” she added. “We’re not sacrificing good business management for growth.”

The RealReal says that 80% of its consignors were female, primarily with household income of about $50,000.

It says its top-selling luxury designers include Cartier, Chanel, Christian Louboutin, Gucci, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Rolex, Tiffany & Co. and Valentino.

The RealReal, however, has also run into trouble with other luxury brands.

Last November, Chanel filed a lawsuit against RealReal, alleging that the online retailer misrepresented certain counterfeit Chanel products as authentic ones. It also alleged that the resale of Chanel products confuses consumers into believing that Chanel is affiliated with The RealReal. The litigation in its early stages and the final outcome is uncertain, according to the prospectus.

Wainwright called it an “annoyance suit that was unfounded.” And she noted that RealReal is actually good for luxury brands since it creates more buying power for shoppers to buy new stuff as they look to recycle old items in their closet. She says buyers tend to buy up — they’ll buy a $3,000 handbag instead of a $2,000 handbag if they know they can resell it for $1,000, for example.

“We’re a gateway for luxury for first time buyers,” she added.

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