The Marketplace Boom   //   May 16, 2024

Whatnot is building out its fashion category via a partnership with ThriftCon

Approximately 40,000 people attend ThriftCon, a vintage clothing and collectibles show, each year in the United States. Now, more shoppers will get a chance to participate by tuning into a virtual convention hosted by the live-shopping platform Whatnot.

This weekend, Whatnot is partnering with ThriftCon to bring vendors and products online for the first time in ThriftCon’s history. ThriftCon, which began in Denver in 2019, hosts events in a handful of U.S. cities annually, but its event with Whatnot will be online only. More than 3,000 sellers have signed up for the event, which will be held on Whatnot’s app from May 17 to 19. There, thrifters can shop dozens of categories, including vintage jeans and women’s shoes, without having to wade through a crowded convention hall.

Whatnot launched in 2019 with backers including YouTube star Logan Paul and DJ Steve Aoki. It operates on a peer-to-peer model — most of its sellers are resellers and collectors, all of whom have to apply to sell on the platform. Whatnot’s users tune into shows to watch sellers show off anything from comic books to NFTs, then click a button to buy those products. Viewers can also ask hosts questions during livestreams. Whatnot makes money by taking an 8% cut from each transaction. While it does not divulge revenue, Whatnot said that more than 100 sellers brought in $1 million in sales in 2022.

Whatnot’s new partnership with ThriftCon is emblematic of its bigger focus on growing its non-memorabilia business. When Whatnot launched five years ago, it sold collectibles like sports cards, comic books and Funko Pops. Today, the company has branched out into dozens of other categories, including beauty, home and garden and food and drink. While the majority of Whatnot’s business remains collectibles, fashion is now the fastest-growing category on the platform, Armand Wilson, vp of categories and expansion at Whatnot, told Modern Retail.

In 2023, Whatnot’s sales of women’s fashion grew 5x in terms of gross merchandise value, per the company. Vintage, in particular, has become “a lot bigger than it was two and a half years ago,” Wilson said. Sneakers are also popular among shoppers and are now the biggest category within fashion on Whatnot. In addition, last month, Whatnot held its first-ever spring sale to boost revenue for its fashion category. The sale included brands such as Skims and Lululemon.

“It’s been really awesome to see the fashion community… geek out and find similar value to Whatnot that we’ve seen from the collector-type audience that we started with,” Wilson said.

ThriftCon decided to partner with Whatnot on a live shopping event after receiving requests from customers to bring the convention to their cities, ThriftCon co-founder Mario Conte told Modern Retail. ThriftCon has a small team and a tight schedule, he said, which means that it can only travel to seven or eight cities a year. Partnering with Whatnot “opens up the possibility for our vendors, a bunch of self-operated small businesses, to reach thousands of eager buyers… without the cost and commitment of an in-person pop-up,” Conte said.

Whatnot is one of a growing number of platforms tapping into the retail industry’s interest in live shopping. Live shopping has long been popular in Asia, specifically China, as a way for consumers to learn about products and ask for recommendations. The channel became more popular in the U.S. at the beginning of the pandemic when physical retail became untenable. Whatnot, which debuted just before the pandemic, became the first U.S. livestream shopping unicorn when it was valued at $1.5 billion in 2021.

In China, an estimated $500 billion in goods were sold via livestream in 2022, an eightfold increase since 2019. But many retailers in the U.S. “have simply not been able to replicate the success seen in China” when it comes to live shopping, Gartner director analyst Kassi Socha told Modern Retail. Meta, for example, shut down its live shopping feature on Facebook and Instagram in 2022.

There are a few reasons why this might be, Socha said. One, she said, is that in China, live shopping is more widely considered a source of education and entertainment. In addition, Gartner data has found that U.S. shoppers want to decrease their use of social media. If U.S. shoppers put live shopping in that boat, they might cut back on that, too.

For those who use live shopping, though, personalization is key, Socha said. “We’re seeing consumers use opportunities or features of social media that are more private and behind-the-scenes,” she explained. “The live commerce platforms that are facilitating one-to-one behavior are seeing just as much — if not faster — adoption than some of the broader live-shopping platforms.”

Some platforms, like Poshmark and Shein, are still investing in live shopping, and Whatnot says its business is continuing to bloom.

On average, users watch 80 minutes of content on Whatnot a day, up from 60 minutes in 2021. Wilson attributes this to the interactions that viewers have with hosts. It’s normal, Wilson said, for hosts to give shout-outs to particular viewers and recommend products specifically for them — another example of live-shopping personalization.

“A host could be like, ‘What’s up, Armand? You were asking me about vintage boxing tees the other day. Here’s this Muhammad Ali tee that I have that I think you’ll love,'” Wilson said. “That really customized, personalized way of buying products, I think, is pretty unique to Whatnot… You can find something you’re looking for, but also discover new products in a really tailored way.”