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7 Tips for Shopping Online Thrift Stores

Goodwill, other secondhand sellers sell used items at deep discounts online

spinner image online thrift store shopping example of used dress shoes and a smart phone displaying the app for the RealReal platform
Bloomberg / Getty Images

Thrifters have a new way to find secondhand bargains and deals: online. GoodwillFinds eCommerce Inc. is the latest to launch an e-commerce platform selling hundreds of thousands of thrifted items on GoodwillFinds.com. It joins ThredUp, Swap, Poshmark and others reselling goods and apparel over the internet. 

GoodwillFinds.com launched in October as thrifting is having a moment. Sales in the secondhand and resale market are forecast to hit $54 billion in 2023. By 2026, they’re expected to reach $82 billion, according to ThredUp, a resale website.

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Demand is driven by record-high inflation forcing consumers to seek bargains wherever they can find them. ​

“Americans are feeling the weight of the current economy, considering the prices of groceries and everyday essentials have skyrocketed,” says Matthew Kaness, CEO of GoodwillFinds.com. “People are more conscious of how they spend their dollars.”

The bargains can be huge if you don’t mind purchasing used. But finding diamonds in the rough can prove more difficult online, where you can’t try on the items you’re shopping for and inspect them for damage as you would at your local thrift store. 

It’s not impossible. To help you navigate online thrifting, consider these seven strategies.

1. Select your site

Whether you’re shopping for vintage clothing or furniture, there is a secondhand site for that. To save time, narrow your options to thrift sites that cater to what you are looking for. For instance, ThredUp and Vestiaire Collective are among those that specialize in selling designer and vintage apparel, while GoodwillFinds.com and Swap offer more general treasure hunting. ​

2. Have an open mind

Shopping for a specific item on thrift sites can quickly become frustrating, which is why experts say to be broad-minded when looking for deals. Think of it the same way you would if you visited a brick-and-mortar thrift store: as a treasure hunt. “When shopping online thrift, look for opportunistic purchases,” says Antonio Gallizio, CEO of Swap. “Just walk around the site. It’s a great way to chase value and deals and do so without the guilt of spending a lot of money.” 

3. Know your size

Many online thrift stores don’t offer returns, and when they do, you’re often required to pay for shipping. To avoid any purchasing blunders, it’s important to know your size and the sizes of your family. Even better, take everyone’s measurements. Many secondhand websites provide measurement details for each item they sell. That’s a foolproof way to get the right fit. You can also stick to brands you’re familiar with. That will take a lot of the sizing guesswork out of the equation.​

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4. Pay attention to details

Most online thrift stores vet the products they sell to ensure they are not too damaged and are what they’re claimed to be. The condition of the item is usually listed alongside photos. If there are multiple images, make sure to go through each one to spot any damage not listed in the product details. ​

5. Narrow your search with shopping tools

One of the joys of online shopping is that you can sift through thousands of items at breakneck speed, thanks to filtering tools. Found on most secondhand sites, they let you browse based on size, product type, color and other categories. Let’s say you are on the hunt for a black shirt, size small. You can put that into the filter, and the website will show the items matching that criteria. Swap has a feature called “shop this style”: You click on an outfit, and it will kick back every matching or similar product. “With online thrifting, you have a much larger array of products than any thrift store can have, and you’re not sifting through racks and racks of clothing,” Gallizio says. GoodwillFinds.com has curated collections that make shopping easier, be it for Halloween costumes, fall sweaters or home decor. 

6. Sign up for emails

Aim to save even more? Consider signing up for emails and alerts with your favorite internet thrift stores. Most of the secondhand sites let you do this and will send you deals and discounts from time to time. Some will give you a percentage off your first purchase and/or free shipping. If you’re worried about your inbox getting flooded with thrift store emails, create a free email account to handle the influx of bargains. 

7. Don’t give up

If you can’t find what you are looking for, come back often. The websites update their inventory regularly, and what may have been hard to locate last week could be abundant the next. The key is to keep at it to get the best deals on items you want. “For people who haven’t shopped thrift online or in general, my main advice is to remove this idea that there is any stigma behind thrift, especially in the current market,” Gallizio says. “Once people try it and see the value and quality, they are eager to come back sooner rather than later.”