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New Bargains in Used Clothes From Big Retailers

Walmart, Nordstrom, others are selling the apparel

massive warehouse with thousands of garments hung on three-tiered conveyor system at a ThredUp used clothes sorting facility

AP Photo/Matt York, File

In this March 12, 2019, file photo thousands of garments are stored on a three-tiered conveyor system at the ThredUp sorting facility in Phoenix.

En español | If you're the type who could never imagine yourself buying used clothing, it's time to reconsider. Many major retailers — including Nordstrom, Macy's, Eileen Fisher, Patagonia and REI — are selling lightly used clothing or plan to do so. Among the most recent arrivals is the biggest U.S. retailer of all: This spring, Walmart started selling used clothing from popular brands online.

Behind the boom is a shift in consumer sentiment. About 70 percent of women polled by the online retailer ThredUp this year said they have bought or are open to buying used clothing, up from just 45 percent four years ago. The bottom line is value: Here is a way to get top labels and great designs at bargain prices.

But it also helps that so many new buying opportunities have emerged beyond neighborhood thrift shops. The online resale clothing market was booming even before COVID-19 shut down brick-and-mortar stores.

shopper looking at used clothes on a store rack while wearing mask and gloves during the coronavirus pandemic

E+ / Getty Images

Your SecondHand Glossary

Common abbreviations

  • EUC Excellent used condition
  • NIP New in package
  • NWOT New without tags
  • NWT New with tags
  • PP PayPal
  • RV Retail value
  • TTS True to size

Ready to explore? Here are many of your best buying choices. Just remember to research return policies, which often come down to no refunds and no exchanges. And read merchandise descriptions closely, especially notes about an item's condition and measurements.

Major retailers

To see what Walmart is up to, go to walmart.com, select Clothing, Shoes & Accessories from the Departments listing, then Pre-owned: ThredUp. Other retailers with online used-clothing stores include Eileen Fisher, Patagonia, Urban Outfitters and REI. As brick-and-mortar retailing recovers, look for offerings at Macy's, Nordstrom and JCPenney, all of which put sales of pre-owned clothes on hold as the pandemic grew.

Secondhand apps and sites

ThredUp, Poshmark and Tradesy are three of the most established apps, but there are dozens more, such as The RealReal, Depop, Vinted and Mercari. Men's clothing sites include Menswear Market and Grailed. Create an account and use filtering tools to shop by size; you can also filter by garment type, price, newest listings and more. My former Consumer Reports colleague Jody Rohlena says she scores her best deals sorting search results by “new with tags” and by brand. “I've bought several Eileen Fisher pieces, which I couldn't afford otherwise,” she says. Another way to save: “Like” or “heart” an item to get alerts about price drops and similar listings.


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EBay

The best way to navigate the site's massive number of listings is to search for something specific—say, “vintage Diane von Furstenberg dress"—then screen by size, price, condition, color and more, says Jeff Chan, eBay's head of men's apparel. Save searches and favorite sellers to get alerts about price cuts and new listings. Download the app so you can search by snapping a picture of an item — for example, a pair of cowboy boots — to see what's for sale in that category. Never let that Make an Offer button go to waste; sort by Sold Items to see going prices. If an item doesn't arrive or match listing details, eBay offers a money-back guarantee.

Social media platforms

I use Facebook Marketplace to see what locals are selling. On your computer, click on See More on Facebook's home page, then scroll down and select Buy and Sell Groups to join community tag sales or shop by category. To find those groups on your phone's Facebook app, tap the Marketplace icon (found via the menu near the Notifications bell), then More at the right of the category labels. Make an offer by messaging the seller via Facebook Messenger. On Instagram, you can use hashtags to browse (#michaelkorsbags, for example) and tap to buy items for sale. Look for the purse icon to buy through Instagram Checkout, which gives you purchase protection on many items if sellers don't deliver. On Pinterest, search and tap on Shop to Find Merchandise, or look for the shopping tag icon.

Lisa Lee Freeman, cohost of the Hot Shopping Tips podcast, was founder and editor in chief of ShopSmart magazine from Consumer Reports and an investigative reporter for The Dr. Oz Show.

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