9th November 2021

With National Recycling Week (8-14 November) underway, a QUT expert in consumer behaviour and retail marketing is urging people to buy second-hand gifts for Christmas.

Professor Gary Mortimer from QUT’s School of Advertising, Marketing and PR says COVID-19 has accentuated feelings of loneliness but the isolation has led to an increased interest in pre-loved or re-purposed products which in turn is good for the environment. However, people want the backstory before they buy.

“Being socially isolated from loved ones and unable to travel to celebrate important milestones, has impacted people emotionally. Christmas and other special occasions make those feelings much worse,” said Professor Mortimer.

“In surveys undertaken since the onset of the COVID-19, just over half (54%) of respondents reported that they felt lonelier since the start of the pandemic.

“But there is a novel way to alleviate feelings of loneliness, while doing good for the environment and shopping for Christmas presents offers the perfect opportunity.

“International research published last month in the Journal of Marketing Research - Feeling Lonely Increases Interest in Previously Owned Products - found that purchasing second-hand items like books and antiques might actually reduce feelings of loneliness and improve symbolic social connections.



“The analysis found participants were more interested in used products when they felt lonely, and made participants feel more connected.

“Knowing the product was ‘pre-loved’, rather than simply ‘discarded’ also mattered. When it was donated or ‘given’, lonely consumers reported a higher intention to receive the product. However, if the product was simply discarded, no affect was found.”

Professor Gary Mortimer

Professor Mortimer said one way to increase consumption of used products was to reveal their journey to the latest sale point.

In recent QUT research, Professor Brett Martin suggested second-hand retailers should tell the story behind the product to increase the attractiveness of the product.

His paper - A Cinderella story: How past identity salience boosts demand for repurposed products – concluded that promoting the past identity of upcycled and recycled products allowed customers to feel special.

Professor Martin said there was enormous interest in this ‘shopping’ space. He and his co-researchers did a search on Instagram for ‘upcycling’ which yielded more than one million results.

“A key selling point for well-crafted, upcycled products, is their historical context. The past identity matters to the purchaser,” said Professor Martin.

“So, if a backpack is made from a re-purposed airbag or old jeans, a leaky boat turns into a table, a mosquito net transforms into a laptop sleeve, or newspapers have been transformed into flowerpots, consumers want to know that story.”

Professor Mortimer said the findings made it clear second-hand goods retailers should focus less on promoting the ‘cost saving’ and ‘environmental’ factors, and more on emphasising the ‘social connection’ function of such products.

“As for the consumer, you can really give a gift ‘containing love’ with a great ‘story’ behind it this Christmas, and still help the environment at the end of the day,” he said.

Visit QUT’s Centre for a Waste-Free World for more ideas on how to reduce waste locally and globally.

Media contact:

Amanda Weaver, QUT Media, 07 3138 3151, amanda.weaver@qut.edu.au

After hours: Rod Chester, 0407 585 901, media@qut.edu.au

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