Harry Potter and Michael Bublé fuel UK online reselling boom

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Harry Potter, Michael Bublé and PlayStation 4 have helped fuel a boom in online sales of secondhand books, CDs and consumer technology during the pandemic.

Sales at MusicMagpie, an online “reseller”, jumped more than 22% to nearly £120min the UK last year as sales of secondhand books soared by 75% and consumer technology – including previously used smartphones and games consoles – rose by a fifth.

In the final months of the year – in the second lockdown and with Christmas approaching – secondhand book sales were dominated by JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Michael Bublé Christmas album led the way in festive CD sales. Bargain hunters also sought out PlayStation 4s and the iPhone 7, while disc media – which includes CDs, DVDs and games – rose nearly 9% led by sales of Adele’s 10-year-old CD 21.

The company, which was founded in a Stockport garage in 2007 and initially traded only in CDs, now specialises mainly in secondhand technology. It buys goods for a price set by an algorithm based partly on their popularity then refurbishes and resells them via its own sites as well as Amazon and eBay. It has more than 7m registered customers worldwide.

Last year it began setting up kiosks in Asda and Co-op stores where it’s possible to recycle an old phone for cash. It is considering a stock market listing after profits soared nearly 50% to £44.8m last year.

With charity shops closed during high street lockdowns to control the Covid-19 pandemic, and many people short of cash after months on furlough or having lost their job, online trading of secondhand goods has boomed. A spate of decluttering while stuck at home over the summer has also driven the market.

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Sales of used goods jumped 30% on trading site eBay between March and June with sales of secondhand or vintage fashion the fastest growing and biggest category. Fashion resale site Depop also experienced record sales in the UK, US and Australia in the summer, while Oxfam increased sales at its online store by 86% over the festive period when it was forced to close many stores as a result of virus restrictions. Books were the charity’s top-selling secondhand item.

“Consumer attitudes towards buying refurbished products are changing, and there’s also an ongoing move towards ethical spending and tackling the growing problem of e-waste,” said Steve Oliver, the co-founder and chief executive of MusicMagpie.

There are some concerns that the boom in online trading of secondhand goods could dent profits for charities at a time when they are already suffering from months of enforced closure of high street shops.

Robin Osterley, the chief executive of the Charity Retail Association, said his members were not worried about losing sales to online traders: “It’s a big market and lots to go around. Our members have got the ability to take advantage of these platforms themselves through partnerships with Depop, eBay, or World of Books.”

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Top-selling CDs in 2020

  • Adele – 21

  • ABBA – ABBA Gold

  • Guns N’ Roses – Greatest Hits

  • Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

  • Adele – 25

Top-selling books in Nov-Dec 2020

  • This is Going to Hurt – by Adam Kay

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – by JK Rowling

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  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – by JK Rowling (Hardback)

  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – by JK Rowling

  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – by JK Rowling

Top-selling CDs in Nov-Dec 2020

  • Michael Bublé – Christmas

  • ABBA – ABBA Gold

  • Nirvana – Nevermind

  • Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms

  • Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

Top-selling consoles in Nov-Dec 2020

  • PS4

  • Xbox One

  • PS4 Pro

  • Xbox One S

  • PS4 Slim

Top-selling games in Nov-Dec 2020

  • FIFA 19 (PS4)

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Xbox 360)

  • Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360)

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops (PS3)

  • Fallout 4 (PS4)