Buying and selling second-hand goods has become increasingly popular in Turkey amid the country’s recent economic turmoil. 

Increasing inflation and astronomical exchange rates, combined with the recession triggered by the pandemic, has placed almost all consumer goods into the “luxury items” category for large numbers of people. As a result, many Turks have explored alternative venues for shopping. 

Gökhan Yıldız, a 34 year-old writer from Istanbul, describes his income as “inconsistent and insufficient”. 

Gökhan Yıldız (Credit: Personal archive)

He got into second-hand shopping both because he wanted to pay less for goods and to make some money on the side. Selling things from around the house has become a source of additional income in recent years.

“I sell everything I don’t use now, from clothes to kitchen utensils, books to electronics. Honestly, the pandemic has hurt my hopes of getting a job with a steady income. So to me, it makes sense to turn everything I can into cash during the pandemic,” Yıldız said.

Websites that allow for the sale of used goods online are called C2C marketplaces, short for consumer-to-consumer. Yıldız uses almost all Turkey’s online secondhand marketplaces to ensure he reaches the maximum number of potential buyers.

“Dolap, Gardrops, Modacruz, Letgo, Sahibinden… I check each one if I’m going to sell or buy anything,” Yıldız says, adding that he used Dolap the most. Despite its higher rate of commission, sales tended to go through much faster. 

Many C2C marketplaces enforce anywhere from four to 20 per cent commission, depending on the type of goods being traded. Online marketplace Letgo differs from its competitors in that it doesn’t offer online payments as an option – vendor and buyer have to meet face to face – and doesn’t charge commission.

“It’s kind of a bummer when the platform takes a commission from an item that you sold,” Yıldız said. “You’re already trying to sell something you only used once or twice for 100 liras even though you bought it at maybe 250, and they add the cut, it’s upsetting.” 

In addition to the impact of the pandemic, Turkey has also suffered from political turbulence that began with the abrupt resignation of the finance minister Berat Albayrak, followed by departures from the management of the country’s central bank. In 2020, Turkey was ranked second after Argentina in terms of food price inflation, at a whopping rate of 20.6 per cent.

The prominent economist Barış Soydan told Inside Turkey that consumers were struggling to meet basic needs like heating, electricity and rent. 

Barış Soydan (Credit: Personal archive)

“Millions became unemployed or were placed on unpaid leave during the pandemic. It’s basically impossible to live on the 1,500-lira unemployment pension the state hands out. Anyone who tries to live on this amount is living on the hunger line,” Soydan said, adding that official inflation figures don’t fully reflect the price rises. 

Oğuz Demir, chair of digital economy and marketing at Istanbul Commerce University, told Inside Turkey that up to five million workers had experienced a loss of income during the pandemic. 

Oğuz Demir (Credit: Personal archive)

“Turks’ interest in second-hand trade is unfortunately not motivated by a desire to create cyclical economies, but instead by a need to compensate for loss of income. Higher prices led people to the secondhand market,” Demir said. 

Raziye Ergün is a maths student at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. Before the pandemic she lived in a flat with three roommates in the Cihangir neighbourhood, but has since moved to her family’s home in the north-western Turkish city of Eskişehir to save on living costs. 

Raziye Ergün (Credit: Personal archive)

“I used to buy more first-hand clothes on platforms like Trendyol and Hepsiburada but I started browsing second-hand sites as prices increased,” she said. “I’ve used many in the past two years. I used to buy more clothes at first, but I’m more concerned about living expenses now. I could make money with temporary jobs in Istanbul, but now I sell stuff to at least make up for my own expenses.” 

Ergün said that she often sold clothes she doesn’t wear anymore, as well as old textbooks. 

“There aren’t usually many buyers for the books but I try my luck.”

Demir said that prices for electronic goods had risen as a result of the exchange rate spike, making them difficult for an average consumer to afford. Domestically-produced goods also suffered, because they often contained imported components.

“Turkey is highly dependent on imported inputs for domestic production,” Demir said. “Electronic goods have led in the increased interest in second hand goods.” 

In Ergün’s experience, unemployment due to the pandemic has been the main factor in pushing people to look for second-hand goods. 

“People are really looking for cheap alternatives,” she said. “The most significant increase in demand and supply on the platforms I use has been during the pandemic. I also see this among my peers, because everyone is looking for a way to make a living.”

Selçuk Şimşek, a 30-year-old accountant from Istanbul, has had to live on the state’s reduced hours pension during the pandemic. 

Selçuk Şimşek (Credit: Selçuk Şimşek)

“I’m usually not into clothes shopping but I am interested in electronics,” he said. “Of course, I started selling them instead of buying them when I became unemployed. I sold my laptop thinking I’ll get a newer one later.” 

Şimşek had two credit cards when he was in work, and failed to pay one of them off during the pandemic. 

“I needed cash urgently to pay it off, so I bought a phone on a payment plan on one card and sold it on a website,” he continued. “I paid off my debt with that money. Now I have to pay off the phone each month.”

The need for cash has led to unusual items being advertised on C2C marketplaces. 

“I’ve seen a half-empty bottle of perfume on sale,” Yıldız recalled. Ergün said that the strangest items she saw on sale were personal garments like underwear and nightgowns.

Yıldız said that he traded with all sorts of people, from housewives to students, workers and well-off individuals. Ergün, on the other hand, usually traded with university students like herself. 

“I always get people who say they’re students too, and ask for a discount. Sometimes, those requests are outrageous. I’ll post a 200-lira pair of shoes for a low price, and get bids for five or 10 liras,” Ergün said, adding that she sometimes took goods off the market because of such interactions. 

Yıldız said he was most surprised by the high-end clothing, bags and shoes he encountered. 

“I realized on these apps that the rich use them too. Purses that were 10,000 liras are on sale for 3,000. I think they’re struggling too, for themselves,” he said. “Sometimes they’ll post a really high-end item for a really low price to get rid of it quicker. I’ve bargained for a few of those, and sold them off for way more later.”