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Publications > Research Papers > Identifying Gaps in Consumer Protection in the Second-Hand Market in Canada
Identifying Gaps in Consumer Protection in the Second-Hand Market in Canada

It is generally recognized that consumers assume a certain amount of risk when purchasing used products and that risk is reflected in the reduced price.  For instance, there is a greater likelihood of these products developing faults or breaking down completely. Despite this recognition, consumers do not forego their right to be protected from damaged, unsafe or recalled products that potentially pose dangers to their health and safety. Do these products find their way onto resale, thrift or consignment store shelves?  If they do, consumers may be at risk. There is a need to explore whether sellers in the second-hand market provide the necessary level of protection to consumers and whether consumers have sufficient information to protect themselves.

Field researchers surveyed 200 shoppers outside of second-hand retail stores in order to acquire information about what second-hand products they typically purchase and what human health or safety concerns they may have regarding these purchases.  They were asked to identify actions that governments and second-hand sellers can undertake to improve consumer confidence. They were also asked questions about their awareness of Health Canada’s recalled products website and the Consumer Product Safety Act. Demographic information was also collected. The consumer surveys were conducted concurrently in Toronto, Ontario and Vancouver, British Columbia between the months of October and November, 2011.   

Telephone surveys were conducted with 45 second-hand store managers from Canada’s nine most populous cities in order to acquire information about what products they carry and whether certain policies or laws limit the products they carry.  They were asked to identify what practices they use to protect their customers from potential harm, and if there were any products they stopped selling due to potential risks posed to their customers.

Key Findings Included:

    • The five most common types of second-hand products carried and purchased are:  clothing & accessories; books, movies and music; collectibles; housewares; and, jewellery.
    • Consumers are concerned about cleanliness more than safety.  When asked if there were any concerns when buying second-hand goods, just over half of survey respondents (n=97) revealed having concerns.  Most of these respondents (n=74, 76%) were concerned about buying unsanitary second-hand products (i.e. lack of cleanliness, contain bacteria, bugs or germs).  Few respondents indicated concerns regarding safety, with 13 respondents expressing concern about second-hand products in poor condition (i.e. broken or of poor quality) and 4 concerned about second-hand products being unsafe.   
    • For consumers, the three product categories that pose the greatest perceived risk are baby equipment, toys and mattresses. 
    • Consumers perceive themselves as being primarily responsible for their own health and safety, but fall short on being an informed consumer. 


My Sustainable Canada received funding from Industry Canada’s Contributions Program for Non-profit Consumer and Voluntary Organisations for this research project. The views expressed in this report are not necessarily those of Industry Canada or the Government of Canada.


Project Team:

Linda Varangu, M.Eng.
Director, My Sustainable Canada

Tania Del Matto, M.ES.
Director, My Sustainable Canada

Brendan Wylie-Toal, B.Sc., HBOR
Program and Research Manager, My Sustainable Canada

Nicholas Cloet, B.ES.
Sustainability Research Coordinator

P. Wesley Schultz, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist, Action Research, Inc.
Professor of Psychology, California State University

Coral M. Bruni, M.A.
Data Analyst, Action Research, Inc.

Emmanuel Prinet, M.Sc
Policy Director, One Earth Initiative Society