SINGAPORE: A teenager who claimed to earn up to S$30,000 a month reselling collectible sneakers made the headlines recently.
He plies his trade by procuring limited edition kicks such as Air Jordans and Adidas Yeezys and then goes on to resell them at exorbitant prices with as much as a 300 per cent profit margin.
This teen is not the only shoe trader out there. In fact, the sneaker industry is rife with resellers who are increasingly crowding out customers who actually want to wear their purchased shoes, just for the sake of making a quick buck.
Judging from the online comments by many other people who were unhappy with the outrageous prices that resellers charge, I was certainly not the only one who felt my blood pressure rising. It is the same feeling of getting fleeced into paying “tourist price” while shopping at a market in a foreign country just because you are not a local.
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As a lifelong shoe addict, I’ve done my fair share of crazy things, like walking barefoot in the rain to protect my precious possessions from getting damaged.
But there is one thing I will never do and that is to buy sneakers from a reseller at many times more than its actual retail price.
While I am lucky to have some disposable income to occasionally treat myself to indulgences like cool footwear, I simply refuse to allow my hard-earned money to go to resellers whose ethically suspect practices lead to such eye-watering prices in the first place.
In many ways, resellers who wipe out the stocks of in-demand products whether they are sneakers or the latest iPhones are really not very different from another universally reviled group of sellers – ticket scalpers.
Just last year, to the outrage of music fans, tickets to British crooner Ed Sheeran’s concert in Singapore were snapped up by scalpers within 40 minutes. They subsequently reappeared on resale sites at prices of up to S$13,500 – almost 54 times more than the original S$248 price for the top category ticket.
To score these coveted products or tickets, price gougers most commonly resort to underhanded tactics such as deploying bots to overwhelm e-commerce sites.
These programmes can enter online queues thousands of times, which effectively wipes out a real customer’s hopes of getting a fair chance to buy what they are after at retail price.
To make matters worse, resellers often snap up multiple pieces of the same product (or whole blocks of concert seats) to create an artificial demand, which ends up further driving up prices on the secondary market, often to unconscionable proportions.
In the pre-coronavirus days, when resellers would camp outside stores overnight to get their hands on popular releases, there was perhaps a small argument that there was some utility to what they did.
They were after all, practicing arbitrage by bridging a gap in the market – they sold the service of standing in line overnight on behalf of cash-rich but time-starved individuals.
Even then, this often devolves into an ugly practice with people blatantly cutting queues and fighting over their place in line, sometimes even resorting to physical violence to grab whatever stock is available.
However, not all reselling should be frowned upon. For example, there are people who resell or trade in their own sneakers or other possessions to fund their next purchase and why not? Now that is sustainable consumption put into practice.
Where the line should be drawn though, is at the rent-seeking behaviour of resellers who hoard products to flip huge profits without benefitting anybody or adding any value to the market.
This is not just a shoe collector thing as this applies to many other consumer products too.
In fact, many of us probably vividly remember the frustration of being unable to get supplies such as disinfectant wipes, hand sanitisers, masks and even toilet paper in stores early in the pandemic, only to discover listings for these necessities at high prices on sites like Carousell.
Collectible sneakers are not “essential” but it still stings to see a profiteer brag about reselling a pair of shoes you were unable to snag thanks to their sneaky ways, often within minutes of a launch.
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END THIS TOXIC RESALE CULTURE
Thankfully, retailers have been hard at work trying to curb this unfair behaviour by implementing purchasing limits. Many websites also have bot detectors to weed them out but of course this is a never-ending game of cat and mouse with resellers deploying ever more “intelligent” programmes to game the system.
For particularly coveted sneakers, some retailers have also executed innovative strategies to give genuine customers a better shot.
For instance, to identify real buyers, influential sneaker shop Limited Edt recently ran an Instagram competition for a recent release of Nike Dunks, one of this year’s hot shoes – and threw in a free personalisation service to keep these kicks off the resale market.
And sometimes when you can’t beat them at their game, it might just make the most sense to take a step back and opt out of this toxic resale culture.
According to a recent report by sneaker marketplace Ox Street, about 80 per cent of sneakerheads have tried to buy shoes on the resale market – surely this is exerting an upward pressure on sneaker prices to no one’s benefit except the seller’s.
Instead, why not exercise some circumspection and fight the urge to continuously chase after the next hyped release at all costs necessary. They are just shoes after all and you can definitely live with fewer pairs piled up in your room.
Plus, with a smaller pool of potential buyers to hawk their wares to, there is a chance that resellers could feel less incentivised into snapping up all the shoes in the market just to make a quick buck.
In the meantime, wear classic white sneakers instead. They never go out of stock and they go with just about every item of clothing from athleisure to - believe it or not - formal wear.
STOP GLORIFYING RESELLERS
Finally, while it is true that some resellers do possess a certain moxie, is their brand of money-making truly the kind of entrepreneurship we wish to laud? After all, their profits are earned by unfairly gaming the market so what good comes out of this type of hustle anyway?
In Singapore, we have always been welcoming of creative and enterprising minds. Over the years, the country has nurtured many innovators who have – or are in the process of – creating legacies we can be proud of.
There’s the legendary Creative Technologies founder Sim Wong Hoo, who invented the game changing Sound Blaster sound card in 1989 and just last year launched the award winning Super X-Fi audio range.
More recently, younger entrepreneurs such as Dr Sandhya Sriram and Dr Ka Yi Ling of Shiok Meats are among the first in the world to create cell-based shrimp meat as an environmentally-friendly and cruelty-free alternative meat.
And during the pandemic, many doctors-turned-entrepreneurs harnessed technology to implement telemedicine services that allowed more people risk-free access to much needed healthcare services.
Clearly, society loves rooting for a hustler-made-good, especially when the entrepreneur does something to make the world a better place. So yes, let’s keep chasing the rainbow but bear in mind there’s more to success than merely making a pile of cash.
Karen Tee is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer.