Hey Macklemore, Can We Go (e-)Thrift Shopping

Graphics by Rose Lee

The BRB Bottomline: See how the quickly emerging digital resale market is challenging brick & mortar resale stores and why Berkeley’s local thrift shops will survive their rise!


Buying clothes secondhand was once heavily stigmatized, as many thought used goods were only bought by those who couldn’t afford anything else. Most people were repulsed by the idea of wearing clothes that someone else had worn. But throughout the past century, this stigma has essentially disappeared, due greatly in part to the emergence of thrift shops. Something that thrift shops offer that other fashion sources don’t is the experience: the whole notion of bargain hunting can make you feel as if you’re Indiana Jones, searching for the Lost Ark. The experience, with its cheapness and sustainability, has caused thrifting to become increasingly mainstream—enough that rapper Macklemore even released a song about it.

Companies Changing Thrifting

Recently many companies have been trying to take the experience of thrifting online. The thrill of real-life bargain hunting, however, doesn’t translate so easily to a website, so online thrift shops often must look for alternative sources of attraction. One strategy that the online resale retailer Goodfair has found success in is its one-of-a-kind mystery bundles, or themed variety packs of clothes. For example, currently listed are a Save the Earth Bundle, a Tree Hugger Bundle, and a Cure Corona Bundle, for which a percentage of the proceeds goes directly to COVID-19 relief funds. 

These mystery bundles are enticing because they come with the aspect of surprise. It’s the same reason why people love loot boxes in video games—the thrill of never knowing what you’re going to get is an experience in itself. This method equally benefits Goodfair.  As the company states on its website, by choosing to sell mystery bundles, it saves the time (and costs) of photographing and listing each individual item. Finally, Goodfair understands that you might not like everything you get; replacement orders are only $4 and you do not have to return anything. As Financial Literacy Columnist and Goodfair customer Conrad Belknap puts it, “Goodfair takes the thrift store experience online, providing great value on large quantities of clothing. Not everything you get will be a winner, but there are enough interesting picks to make it worth a try.” And if you don’t like what you get, you can always get a replacement!

Another fashion resale company with a similarly successful strategy is ThredUP. Aside from having a traditional marketplace where customers can search through heavily discounted secondhand items, ThredUP also sells Goody Boxes. After filling out a short style quiz, you can sign up to get a customized Goody Box delivered to your front porch. You only have to pay for what you like, and you can return the rest. What’s even better is that you can sign up for recurring Goody Boxes, so you can get a newly customized package delivered to your porch every few months or so. This helps you keep a fresh wardrobe for a minimal price! 

Both Goodfair and Thredups’ models have proven attractive, receiving handsome amounts of funding from investors (ThredUP and Goodfair) . That begs the question: why haven’t people thought of this before?

Why Now?

The idea of thrifting online is not unique. Sites like Craigslist and Ebay have existed since the dawn of the Internet, and as thrifting has become more mainstream, one would expect these sites to gain a lot of traffic too. However, it is rare to see people going to these sites to purchase clothing. Why is that? Why haven’t these companies seen success in the thrifting community like Goodfair and ThredUP have?

The allure of sites like Goodfair and ThredUp comes with the surprise of what you’re getting; Craigslist and Ebay don’t really offer the same experience. Consumer preferences likely play a major role in Craigslist and Ebay’s relatively poor performance as well. One major reason that people prefer online shopping is its convenience. Consumers who prefer e-thrifting to actual thrifting probably prefer online shopping as it saves time. However, since sites like Ebay and Craigslist have hordes of listed items, many of them not related to clothing, it can be overwhelming to search for items you like, even with the search and filter option. On the contrary, Goodfair and ThredUP have gotten rid of this aspect in that Goodfair selects the clothes for you randomly while ThredUp allows you to have the employees select items based on your tastes. The curation that they provide saves a lot of time for the consumers while also still providing an interesting experience. 

How Thrift Shops are Responding

If online resale platforms are emerging rapidly, does this mean that one day our local thrift shops and resale stores will go out of business? I learned more about the issue in a conversation with Jessica Pruitt, a representative of Buffalo Exchange, a fashion resale retailer with a store in Berkeley. Below are a few excerpts of our conversation:

Are you worried about how online thrift stores are trying to crack the same experience online as in person? 

Especially with secondhand clothing, there’s something about the in-store experience that online thrift shopping just can’t match. With such a wide variety of brands and styles, all of which might fit a little differently, our customers love the chance to try on items in person. Shopping in a Buffalo Exchange is this amazing chance to discover brands and styles that you absolutely love but might never have known about otherwise, and the in-store experience, in particular, gives customers the chance to develop their own unique style. It’s also more sustainable because it’s local—the majority of the inventory is bought and sold from and to the local community. Plus, if you’re clearing out your closet, you have the chance to trade in your cleanout on-the-spot for 30% in cash or 50% in trade—so if you want, you can take the trade and essentially shop for free.

Beyond that, our employees are always available to offer personalized styling services, which a lot of customers take advantage of—after all, the employees know the inventory better than anyone! Walking into a Buffalo Exchange is just a fun and welcoming experience—like walking into a party with all your friends.

Do you think that online thrifting will ever be able to offer the same experience as real-life thrifting?

Online secondhand shopping has a lot of good aspects, but there will always be a unique value to shopping in a brick & mortar store. 

As you can see from Jessica’s statement, no matter how big these digital resale retailers grow, there will always be space for real-life thrifting; each option offers a unique experience. There will be those who appreciate the convenience of e-thrifting and those who prefer the experience of brick & mortar thrifting. So don’t worry—even with the growth of e-thrifting, companies like Goodfair and ThredUP do not directly compete with your local thrift stores.

Why Go Thrifting

Whether you do it online or in person, thrifting is the better alternative to buying new. It’s super cheap so you can create a wardrobe that fits your style without breaking the bank. Thrifting is also incredibly environmentally friendly. By thrifting, you’re preventing used items from going to waste and harming the environment. Compared to fast fashion, thrifting is definitely the environmentally conscious choice.

As Jessica says, “shopping secondhand at places like Buffalo Exchange is an easy, fun way to reduce your impact on the environment without sacrificing on style. Not to mention that you can get the same great pieces at stores like Buffalo Exchange for a fraction of the price that you’d pay brand new.” So next time you’re looking to refresh your wardrobe, maybe think about thrifting!

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