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How To Thrift Shop Online

By: Dora Segall
Mar 21, 2021 • 7 min read

How to Thrift Shop Online (Yes, It’s Totally Possible!)

There are so many reasons to opt for thrifting when you need new items — it’s cheaper, better for the planet, and the products are unique. But if you’re still waiting on a COVID vaccine, you might not want to head inside a potentially musty store just yet. Here are some tips for thrift shopping from the comfort of your own home in the meantime.

person holding assorted clothes in wooden hanger

Know Your Options

Getting good deals on the best second-hand goods means knowing where to seek each product and how to purchase it. Thrifting can operate in various ways, so you must know the differences between different websites and apps you want before you start shopping.

Shop-based Websites

Imagine a mall made up of just thrift shops. Now imagine it online. That’s what we mean by shop-based websites — those that connect users to a large number of shops all through a single platform.

Etsy

Etsy connects buyers to products through small or single-person businesses. Though known for its wide array of homemade products, Etsy is also a great source for thrifted goods, with the company requiring all vintage items sold to be at least 20 years old. You can buy all kinds of products on Etsy, from hand-stitched masks to a dress from the 70s to a unique rug for your living room. Prices are usually in the mid-range, depending on the seller and the type of item you’re purchasing.

Ruby Lane

Though it operates through the same shop-to-buyer model as Etsy and does sell some artisan products, Ruby Lane is more like an antique store than a thrift shop. The site is a high-end resource for vintage collectibles, putting it towards the top of the price range. This is the place to go if you’re looking for a unique gift for a family member. Think 19th-century fireplace tools or earrings from the 1960s.

people in front of red and white UNKs neon light signage

Consignment Style

Most of the thrift-stores you’ve been to in person are probably consignment stores, meaning businesses that accept items from their previous owners in exchange for the portion of sales profits. This model operates online, too!

ThredUp

ThredUp offers users the ability to sell and purchase clothing, accessories, and shoes online. Most of the site’s products are refurbished from well-known brands like Madewell and even COACH, but they are marked down by as much as 75% of their original price because they are second-hand.

Urban Outfitters Renewal

Urban Renewal is a great way to shop Urban Outfitters without the high cost or environmental impact for more trend-minded shoppers. Averaging around 25% cheaper than the brand’s all-new products, Urban Renewal clothing is made from upcycled (recycled and revamped) vintage garments that the company handpicks from around the world. Sign us up!

Buy Direct

If you’re looking for a way to thrift online without going through a third party, several platforms allow users to buy items directly from the people who wore or used them first. This often makes items cheaper, but it also means a lower chance of finding something that has been upcycled from a potentially damaged condition.

woman sitting on sofa wearing sunglasses

Poshmark

Like Etsy, Poshmark is a great source for a wide range of products — it even has a pet section! The big difference is Poshmark’s peer-to-peer structure. The platform is kind of like Instagram or Pinterest aesthetically. Only all the images you like or upload yourself are of sellable products!

Depop

Depop is kind of like Poshmark’s artsy little sibling. Think bold prints and experimental cuts. The site is fashion-focused, so you’ll want to use it if you’re on the lookout for fun new clothing or accessories. Products range from super cheap to pretty expensive, but most items are second-hand and therefore less pricey than brand new. Fun fact — Depop was initially founded as a social network where users could purchase items featured in Italy’s PIG Magazine. After a while, the company realized users wanted a way to sell their own items and develop a peer-to-peer function.

Facebook Marketplace

If you’re interested in social media thrifting but don’t want to download a specific app for it, consider using Facebook Marketplace! A huge draw to Marketplace is that its algorithm only shows you items for sale in your area, meaning you can pick them up in person rather than having them shipped. Not to mention, the items are usually pretty cheap.

Auction galleries

If you budget strategically enough, online auctions can be a great way to save money and purchase super cool, unique items. They work because sellers create a time limit for a specific item and allow users to bid on it until time runs out. Whoever bids the most by then can purchase the item (you don’t pay anything unless you win).

eBay

A classic resource for second-hand items, eBay allows users worldwide to bid on pretty much all kinds of products under the sun. Looking for a new pair of shoes? Go on eBay? In the market for a classic car? eBay’s got you covered!

thrift shop online

ShopGoodwill

If you like eBay, you might like ShopGoodwill, too. Unlike Goodwill’s in-person stores, the company’s online shop operates via auction, allowing users to bid on items like old electronics and second-hand clothing. Because bidding is competitive, products might be a little more expensive than they would be in-store, but you can still get some crazy deals and some really cool products if you search thoroughly enough.

These are just some of the many options for those of you looking to get into online thrift-shopping. Do a Google search for “online thrift shops” or “online consignment stores” to see more of the great platforms out there. You’ll find that most of them fall under the categories we’ve described.

Come up With a Game Plan

Now that you know where to start, it’s time to prepare not to get carried away while thrift-shopping online. Unlike in-person thrifting, there’s no transportation barrier stopping you keeping you from browsing stores on the Internet, making it less than impossible to lose an entire day looking for (or worse, buying) a new pair of shoes. It’s important to go to a thrift-shop online that you know how to do so without wasting time or money.

Make a Shopping List

Remember when you were a kid at the grocery store with your mom, and you found yourself asking for every other item you saw? Online shopping can be like that, only you’re the responsible adult who says no. When good deals and cool items are everywhere, it can be easy to give in to temptation and let clutter pile up in your closet.

Just like you (hopefully) do at the grocery store these days, make a note of the items you need — on your phone, on paper, even if you’re head if you have a good memory — before you hop on eBay or Depop. Knowing your needs and limiting your wants should help you stay on track while you’re browsing and prevent you from buying yet another sweater you’ll never wear. Once you gain some experience shopping in this way, you might even acquire mental blinders that prevent you from really looking at the things that aren’t on your list when you shop online. See ya, impulse-buying!

thrift shop online

Set a Budget

Putting a cap on your spending ahead of time is another great way to limit yourself when thrifting online. This will help you pay attention to price tags as you shop and prevent you from experiencing a rude awakening at checkout. Make sure to plan ahead when thrift-shopping and buy new items only when your income allows for it — this is preferable to skimping on groceries and water for two weeks after purchasing an expensive new coat.

Schedule Your Thrifting Time

If you’re someone who binge-watches an entire TV show at once and isn’t sure what day it is when you finish, you might also be the kind of person who will want to set a time limit on your online thrift shopping. If you’re looking for a new dress and really want to take time to find the perfect one, or if you just like browsing all your favorite online shops as a way of relaxing, scheduling in your online thrifting time is a great way to indulge yourself without putting off other tasks. Try allowing yourself a few hours each week, broken up into smaller increments over the course of different days. We recommend penciling in your shopping time before an appointment of some kind — that way, you won’t stay up late or procrastinate on your next self-scheduled task!

Know How to Find Quality Items

Thrift-shopping can be challenging when you aren’t able to see a product in-person before you buy it. For this reason, especially on peer-to-peer websites, you’ll have to be extra careful when buying items online.

Avoid Sketchy Sellers

This is an area where you should always do your homework and trust your instincts. If you’re in love with an item you find online, vet the seller before you go through with a purchase — have they sold lots of similar items? Do they get good reviews? Chances are that if a seller seems like they’re trying to rip you off or, worse, steal your credit card information, your gut is telling you that for a reason! The Internet is overflowing with second-hand retailers, so never impulse-buy something from a seller that rubs you the wrong way.

thrift shop online

Don’t Buy Worn-Out Items.

If you find an old jacket, but it looks like it’s not in the greatest shape, don’t buy it just because it’s cheap. You may be thinking, “I can just sew up that hole in the sleeve,” or “I kind of like the faded look anyway.” But think of purchasing second-hand items like purchasing a used car — if it’s in so-so shape now, it will only be in worse shape after further use, no matter what you do to fix it. If you’re constantly mending a garment or buying new parts for an electronic of some kind, you may find yourself spending more money on them than you would have if you’d just paid more for it in the first place. So unless you’re looking to invest time and money into upcycling for fun, we recommend compromising to find that sweet spot between reasonable price and condition.

Consider Shipping Costs and Location

You might be in love with a new-looking pair of jeans you found for a low price, but you’ll probably change your tone if you find that shipping costs are steep. Platforms like Depop give sellers the option of having buyers pay for shipping themselves, meaning you might wind up paying double what you expected to in some cases.

Moreover, thrifting online can get complicated when you purchase an item from someone overseas. If you’re purchasing a gift for someone, we recommend keeping it domestic for timing reasons — it’s not too uncommon for an international product to take several extra weeks to arrive in the mail.

Ask Questions BEFORE You Buy

Another important part of doing your research before purchasing a second-hand item online is doing your best to know its condition without seeing it in person. This can be challenging — sellers might take strategic photos and neglect details in their product descriptions to get the best deal they can. A good way to combat these tricks is by requesting additional photos that show the item from all angles and asking for measurements. This will help you verify if a pair of pants, for instance, has shrunk or has a stain on the hem that you didn’t initially notice.

Be Patient

Just like it is in-person, it can be tempting to impulse-buy an item online when it looks like exactly what you’re looking for. But you may find yourself feeling some regret if you buy the first pair of platform shoes you see and then find a better pair a few days later. Even if a product looks perfect after you’ve browsed your options, give yourself a day to reconsider before you make a purchase. It’s always best to take your time before spending your money.

If you do find any shortcomings with a product, especially significant ones, keep looking. It might be tough, but waiting can pay off when someone finally lists the jacket you’ve been looking for on their page without the tear you saw on one from an earlier listing.

The more time you spend thrift-shopping online, the easier it will become. So take your time, explore your options, and get thrifting!

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