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The New Era of Secondhand Shopping

Put these three factors together and we are in the midst of a thrift renaissance. Botsman confesses that in recent months, she has been so bombarded with emails from people starting sites like these that she has had to bring on three interns to help sort through them all.

Some might wonder if this trend toward a more thoughtful consumer culture will be able to survive once the economy begins to improve, but each of the experts we spoke with believes we are already past the point of no return.

"I really don't believe this is a reactionary blip," Botsman says. "People may use one of these sites with the motive of saving money, but what they get out of it is realizing that they are meeting people and finding out that this is a much better way to get what they need."

Williams, the SnapGoods co-founder, puts it in even stronger terms.

"The very notion of ownership has come under attack," he said. "Ownership is no longer as important as it once was. Now access is more important."

This notion of an "economy of access," as Williams puts it, is the same reason services such as Netflix and Zipcar were able to become popular during the past decade. Those sites continue to thrive, which gives hope the new batch of sites will continue to do well.

"I think we're at the beginning," Botsman said. "The idea of going out shopping and buying something that you're just going to use once will seem dumb to our kids."

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