Selling second-hand clothes on the internet is a great idea, whether you’re doing it for charity or looking to build a new income stream. A website, or being part of an existing marketplace selling second-hand clothes is a low-cost, low-entry business that anyone can grow from the comfort of their home.
If you’re wondering how to start selling second-hand clothes on the internet, this article will cover a 6-step starting guide teaching you everything you need to start out.
And who knows, maybe in a few years you'll be right up there with the best online thrift stores, retailing loads of second-hand fashion. Fashion therefore more sustainable and better for the planet.
Selling second-hand clothes works similarly to the other eCommerce stores you’re already familiar with. A business owner, or consignor, puts up items for sale. Potential buyers see these items, and some of them convert into paying customers. This is a straightforward process, but getting from the point of setting up the business to the point of sale is where the complexities happen.
Your business can be profitable, or non-profitable, depending on several factors. If you’re setting up on the internet for charity reasons, then you’re not necessarily building for profit. Most likely, the proceeds from the thrifted items would be used to support your charity goals.
However, if you’re looking to build an income stream, then you need to think about profitability. Your business can be profitable, as there’s a lot of money exchanged within the thrifting industry. In the US, the used merchandise stores industry includes about 20,000 stores with combined annual revenue of about $17.6 billion1. In the UK, there are approximately 4,000 second-hand retail shops2.
These numbers show that resale fashion is ‘booming’ business. More and more people are looking to buy second-hand items for several personal, financial, and environmental reasons. A report from Statista2 shows that in 2019, sales in UK second-hand shops saw a 17.6% rise in value. The industry is growing, and despite how many players it already has, there’s enough space for you to carve a niche and make a good profit with your business.
But regardless of how big the industry is, your focus should be on building a business that is actually profitable for you. This means sourcing products at fair prices, marking-up enough to see a good profit margin, managing your marketing spend, and so on. We’ll discuss all these points in detail in this article. If you can get these aspects of your business figured out, you should be profitable.
You may experience better results by working within a niche. This means a small specialized area within the larger second-hand market. For example, you can choose to resale feminine clothing, furniture, home decor, books, gardening items, electronics, e.t.c., as opposed to all of them at once.
Here are a few reasons why:
When you try to resale everything you can find, it becomes easy to collect junk that you may never sell. For example, if your store mostly attracts people looking to buy fashion items, and you’ve collected a lot of books, those books will eventually just take up your space and gather dust. Also, that’s your business money tied up in products you may never sell.
Your potential buyers are prowling the internet using specific search terms that relate directly to what they want to buy. If your business carries a generic name because you’re trying to appeal to everyone, then it may be hard for anyone to find you.
Remember that what you are doing is essentially sales. Some potential customers may come to you as ‘ready-to-buy’. But others will have questions and need a bit more convincing. If you run a generic second-hand business on the internet, you may not have the specialized knowledge to effectively pitch all your products. But as a specialized business owner, you will have enough time to learn about your niche and learn to sell your items.
When people know that they can get ‘x’ item from you, your website or marketplace store stays top-of-mind for them. They can easily share or recommend your website to friends, family, or social media contacts with similar interests.
The strength of your business is in the quality of items you can offer to your customers. While people come to you looking for used items, they also don’t want items that look used. They want high-quality products that will offer them great value. So a major aspect of your marketing plan (that you should spend enough time researching) is where to get your inventory.
Here are some of the popular options to source inventory for your second-hand resale businesses.
The first and most obvious place to find great items is brick-and-mortar second-hand stores. These places already hold a wide selection of items for you to choose from. You can find the best places near you, hunt for items that will appeal to your customers, and buy them to resale. In this situation, what you’re offering customers is accessibility. Many people are not willing/too busy to do the leg work of visiting traditional stores to find what they need.
People are always looking to sell off stuff. As a second-hand business, you should be on the lookout for sales happening within your area. Yard sales and moving sales are especially great because people usually host them to get rid of things. This means that you can bargain for a good cost price and make a decent profit.
Make sure that the people around you know that you’re accepting the items they don’t need anymore. Inform them of the specific types of items you’ll need. For example, if you focus on fashion, don’t accept electronics donations as you’ll only build clutter in your space.
Many people buy items from their online community. This is a great way to keep the ‘reuse’ train going, and encourage people to waste less. Simply provide your customers with a checklist of what condition you’ll need an item in. Purchasing high-quality items from your community is an interesting way to keep a niche website stocked with great finds.
Where you sell is just as important as what you sell. You’ll need to be findable, accessible, and easy to buy from. You can choose to either host your own web store, or you can sell on third-party platforms.
The first, and most recommended option, is self-hosting; to set up your e-commerce website using an independent domain name and host. This means that your website will be fully under your control. You can design and optimize it to suit your business’ needs. Some of the best-recommended self-hosting platforms for include:
Many people starting an online resale business don’t have the money to invest in a website. In such a case, consider putting your items on third-party marketplaces. These are online platforms built to connect sellers with buyers. Many of them don’t require set-up fees but will take a cut out of each sale.
An added advantage of third-party platforms is that they bring the target audience to you. As a business, you don’t need to spend the bulk of your time looking for potential buyers, since they are already on these platforms. So even if you host your shop on a business website, consider using these marketplaces to also get started.
Some of the best marketplaces to start selling second-hand clothes on the Internet include:
An important aspect of your business plan is marketing. How do you plan to bring buyers to you? What would your brand look like? Would you be running ads? If yes, how much ad spend do you have? Attempt to answer these questions early on. As the business grows and its needs change, your marketing plan will also change. But having a clear outline of your marketing activities would help boost your potential for success.
Here are the basics to make sure you cover before you get started.
Ready to start selling second-hand clothes on the Internet? Remember to keep researching and stay on the hunt for great quality items. Like every other business, it will take some time before your store establishes itself in the market. But with good products and service, you’re well on your way to building a successful business.