Secondhand shopping goes mainstream
Youth driving thrift store popularity for bargain shopping, reusing reasons

By Katherine Michalets - Conley Media and Lauren Zumbach - Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Sept. 4, 2019

Volunteer Erna Schultz hangs sorted clothing on racks at
St. Vincent de Paul in Waukesha in this file photo.

File photo

WAUKESHA — Walking into an area thrift store has gone from a dark and dingy experience to a place with nicely organized racks of clothing and pictures of smiling faces — elements that Rod Colburn, director of operations for St. Vincent de Paul Waukesha, said has helped to draw in younger shoppers.

“The younger generation is more into thrifting and they have kind of brought everyone else along,” he said.

For those who shop at St. Vincent de Paul or other thrift stores out of necessity, Colburn said with the changes to the buildings’ exterior and interior appearances, they can shop with greater dignity.

Wide range of customers

“You look at the people shopping there because they had to, now you look at the parking lots of major thrift stores, Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul, and there are vehicles anywhere from $60,000 Suburbans (and more),” Colburn said. “People shop there for a good deal now.”

Over the past five years, stores selling used merchandise have grown faster than traditional apparel retailers, not counting discount and off-price chains, said David Weiss, a partner at Chicago-based consulting firm McMillan-Doolittle. Even traditional retailers like J.C. Penney and Macy’s are experimenting with selling secondhand apparel.

“This isn’t a fad that’s going to disappear anytime soon. This is a generational shift,” Weiss said.

Younger people who have embraced secondhand items are looking for furniture for dorm rooms and clothing to wear. Colburn described the younger generation as in their teens up to age 30. He said they have gone from pointing out their Guess jeans to the $5 bargain they got at a thrift store.

“A lot of these kids put these clothes on and get a lot of compliments.”

There’s also an element of doing what’s best for the environment. Colburn said the best way to recycle is to reuse.

 Halloween items and others for purchase are found throughout the
Waukesha Goodwill store on Nike Drive in this file photo.
Kenny Yoo/Special to Conley Media

More options for shoppers

Online, there are sites for every niche. Sellers who don’t want to handle transactions themselves can ship goods to companies that operate like virtual consignment or thrift stores. At the luxury end, The RealReal deals in authenticated luxury goods, while ThredUp accepts a wide range of brands found at a typical mall.

Others let customers buy and sell directly from each other, like eBay, Poshmark, Etsy, Depop and Facebook Marketplace.

Traditional brands and retailers are joining too. Patagonia gives customers store credit for quality used gear the brand can resell. Macy’s and J.C. Penney are each putting some ThredUp merchandise in a few dozen stores, including Macy’s stores on State Street and at Water Tower Place, Oakbrook Center and Old Orchard malls in the Chicago area.

In-store partnerships help San Francisco-based ThredUp reach customers who want to touch and feel merchandise before buying, spokeswoman Samantha Blumenthal said in an email. The company started in 2009 as a place to swap men’s apparel but now focuses on women’s and kids’ clothing.

Raven Rothkopf, 17, joined the social resale app Depop to shop, and decided to try selling to make extra money. Two years later, Rothkopf, a senior at Francis W. Parker School, estimates she sells 20 to 30 items a week through the app.

She said she spends about four hours a day on the app, answering questions and negotiating with shoppers. Shopping thrift stores to stock her online store and photographing, packing and shipping items adds extra time. But she enjoys the buying and selling and says she’s making “a good amount of money for a student who doesn’t have to live off the money they’re making.”

“It’s another creative outlet for me,” Rothkopf said. “I think of it as half social media, half business.”

Apps and websites that let consumers list their own merchandise and set their own price might bring a higher payout than working with a thrift store, but require artfully composed pictures, descriptions crafted to pop up in search results and haggling with buyers.

And stores like Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul give back to the community, as well.

In 2018, St. Vincent de Paul Waukesha contributed $1.8 million to those in need.

It may be multigenerational. When Linda Beckstrom, 64, of Chicago, was younger, resale shopping meant trips to disorganized stores without fitting rooms that forced shoppers to try on clothes in the aisles. Today, she looks for bargains at stores like Buffalo Exchange, on a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park with several vintage and resale shops.