The RealReal, a luxury consignment retailer, sends on average two emails a day to people on its marketing list. The content focuses heavily on discounts: “40% off Women’s,” “25% off Men’s,” “70% off our Winter Sale”—and that was just in one email.

Secondhand luxury is a compelling proposition to consumers, who can gain access to labels for a fraction of their original price. Improved restoration and authentication methods ensure the customer experience improves as well, at the same time that global attitudes toward environmental sustainability become increasingly positive.  

On the surface, sites like The RealReal seem like a problem for luxury brands, since they encourage the trading of their products. One could argue that full-price Gucci products versus secondhand Gucci products attract separate customers, but cannibalization is inevitable. However, in luxury’s favor, sites like The RealReal spend significant resources authenticating and photographing the products they trade, selling ideal versions of luxury products even if they’re secondhand. Permitting poor-quality photos and counterfeit goods on these secondhand sites would inflict further damage on the brands.

But the biggest, less obvious issue for luxury brands is The RealReal’s excessive use of discount-driven language. Luxury tries its hardest to disassociate from discounting and The RealReal’s penchant for the practice erodes the reputation of high-end brands. In a way, it’s hard to blame The RealReal, since it is simply taking full advantage of the premise behind secondhand, and the one that resonates most with consumers: the price advantage over buying new. This is arguably much more compelling than forming its value prop on sustainability, which isn’t typically associated with lower prices. People vote with their dollars and it makes sense The RealReal is driving its business accordingly.

Long term, price pressure will only become a bigger issue for luxury brands, as if there wasn’t already enough stemming from direct-to-consumer brands and private labels. Even if luxury brands tried to service the secondhand market themselves, versus relinquishing the reins to a centralized platform like The RealReal, the same issue would remain. But at least in this scenario, luxury brands would capture some revenue from the secondhand market, compared to coming up empty handed as they do today.

In person at The RealReal’s new flagship store in L.A., which spans about half a block, there are few signs of the discount-driven messaging the reseller indulges in online. Might it be attempting to position the brand as a luxury department store whose lower prices award shoppers a moment of relief, as opposed to a store they visit to scrounge for deals? An orientation toward luxury would make a big difference for the luxury brands threatened by retailers like The RealReal, and help The RealReal attract them at the same time.

But at the end of the day, maybe there is nothing luxury brands can do about the rise of secondhand and they must simply accept this new reality. It wouldn’t be the first time they were forced to adapt to where the world is going, instead of holding on to where it’s already been.