One our big themes this year has been “thrift is in style when food inflation is hot.” This week we expanded upon that to also include flea markets as part of that theme. Below we show visitation to two of the country's larger flea markets, one in San Jose and the other in Denver. The San Jose Flea Market has seen an +80% increase visits compared to 2019, averaging around 114K visits per month. The Mile High Flea Market has seen visits increase +90% and averages around 57K visitors per month.
Like other retail categories in this theme (off-price and secondhand), the story began in 2022 and has built during 2023 as the chart below shows. (Interestingly, the retail channel drops during the holidays.) The National Flea Market Association says that the country's over 1,100 U.S. flea markets conduct over $30B in sales annually. These are the same statistics that they provided in 2019. If we conservatively assume that the industry grew by one-third versus the 2019 base, that’s $10B in consumer spending that transitioned from conventional retail to the secondary market.
Obviously, lots of different categories of product are sold at flea markets, including home improvement tools, auto parts, apparel, and jewelry. Moreover, while most of the product is obtained by legitimate circumstances such as from business liquidations, end-of-life product lines, close-outs, shelf expired sales, non-saleable returns, some of the flea market sales are fenced product. The news and our Anchor reports have been filled with stories about retailers dealing with theft-shrink over the past year, some of which has been tied to organized retail crime. That product is converted to cash through many “non-measured” secondary channels. Given the growth in visitation to flea markets this year, that could be a similar growing in appeal to move goods. Given this grey dynamic, there are few statistics and press reports on the flea market industry. In a previous analysis on circular retail and the secondary goods market, we estimated that the secondary goods market was nearly 15% of consumer retail demand (of the relevant markets) in 2019; that figure includes eBay, Amazon third-party sellers, and secondhand, liquidation, and off-price retailers. A market of that size, growing at a double-digit rate, sucks up a lot of demand from “in-season” goods.