Drop Shipping: Depop's Biggest Problem

Artwork by Zara McIntosh

If you’re a clothes lover looking for a more sustainable way to get your fashion fix, Depop is most likely going to be one of the first destinations you’ll head to. Founded in 2011, the online marketplace boasts over 2.5 million active users in the UK alone as of February 2021, and is an ideal platform for those looking to buy or sell second-hand items, vintage pieces or unique one-off designs. With the ability to search for specific items and to refine these searches by size, style, era and colour, you can go through endless listings with a fine-tooth comb to try and fulfil your exact desires. Depop is understandably praised as a sustainable alternative to fast fashion websites, but beyond its traditional usage of individuals making money off their unwanted clothes or small businesses selling handmade designs, Depop’s reputation can be questioned when you begin to notice how many users are simply reselling cheaply made clothes from fast fashion sites...and hiking up the prices. This is best known as 'drop shipping', where sellers advertise items they are purchasing through a hidden middle man, charging considerably higher prices than the original seller.

Reselling is a huge problem in many online communities, with items such as concert tickets and deluxe trainers suffering the age-old fate of being snapped up and relisted for extortionate prices before the original drop has even sold out. When it comes to clothing, these practices have typically been reserved for high-end, limited edition releases that resellers know they can make a profit from. But with the rising popularity and convenience of online fast fashion stores such as Shein, AliExpress and Romwe, Depop users can make a profit with minimal upfront cost by listing fast fashion items as ‘unbranded’ instead.

I was somewhat blind to how big of a problem this kind of reselling was on Depop until I fell for it myself. For the last year and a half, I’ve tried to avoid fast fashion as much as possible. But since I cannot possibly shake my primal instinct to shop, I manage to quench my fashion thirst by browsing on Depop. I was recently searching the app for a cute cardigan top for spring, and came across the perfect candidate from a UK seller. The pictures looked legitimate and the seller had plenty of good reviews, and they had even uploaded a video of the item. My Depop background checks don’t usually go much further than that, so I happily paid £20 for it. I thought this was a reasonable price to pay and when the item arrived it seemed to be of good quality, so I was perfectly content with my new purchase - until someone on Instagram asked me where it was from and then pointed out that it was currently being sold on Shein for the cheaper price of £14.

The price increase didn’t bother me as much as the fact that I bought the top off Depop in the first place to avoid contributing money to the fast fashion industry, only to have ended up contributing to it anyway through an entrepreneurial middleman for a £6 fee. Out of curiosity, I had a browse on Shein and AliExpress (two of the biggest international fast fashion retailers) through some of their current bestsellers and went to see if I could find them being resold on Depop. Unsurprisingly, not much detective work was required, and with very minimal effort I found plenty of popular styles from these cheap websites being resold as “unbranded” items for up to three times their original cost, the prices seemingly justified by the mere mention of trendy search terms such as “y2k” or “TikTok” in the caption.

Beyond the questionable ethics of exploiting an app that theoretically promotes sustainability to make a profit, users who are buying these low-cost items for the sole reason of selling them on are undermining the major draw of fast fashion sites for many people. Many people rely on these sites as they provide stylish options for people on lower incomes who don’t have the privilege of choosing to buy from more expensive, high quality brands. So by buying up popular fast fashion items and consequently reducing the accessibility of these websites for those who rely on them, Depop resellers are causing more harm than simply making buyers feel a little miffed that they’ve been scammed.

And this certainly isn’t an issue that is confined to the murky waters of fast fashion; there is also the common trope of Depop sellers who trawl through charity shops and thrift stores for inexpensive items that they can resell for a generous profit on the app if advertised correctly. The gentrification of charity shops and thrift stores—places which have always been relied on by people from poorer backgrounds—is an unethical practice which has no doubt been exacerbated by social media users promoting it as an easy way of making money. In a culture where young people are desperate to ride the wave of a fashion trend before it rolls away again, using the right keywords and hashtags in an item’s description can turn a £2 purchase into a £20 profit for the crafty seller, with the buyer being none the wiser.

Depop’s official seller guidelines do not make any kind of reference to unethical reselling, so users don’t even have a leg to stand on if they want to report any of these dodgy dealings. Perhaps a buyer more confrontational than I am would have called out a seller for charging them a bumped up price for an item from Shein, but of course, my debilitating need to people-please resulted in a 5 star review and halfheartedly describing her as a “lovely seller!”. Until there are actual measures in place to monitor this kind of behaviour on Depop, the responsibility unfortunately falls into the hands of shoppers to be diligent in their browsing and to try and avoid these mysteriously “unbranded” garments and expensive faux-vintage items. Instead, we must try to put our money into the virtual pockets of sellers who are using the app as originally intended.

Article by Olivia Cox