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. An online thrift store business, or being part of an existing marketplace selling second-hand clothes, is a low-cost, low-entry business idea 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 online stores you’re already familiar with. A business owner, or consignor, puts up items for sale.
A consignment store differs from resale shops online in that the seller of the goods is an individual, marketed alongside other sellers, and shares some of the profit. You can read more here about consignment.
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 your online thrift shop business to the point of sale is where the complexities happen.
A thrift store 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 industry, leading to thriftings popularity.
These numbers show that resale fashion is a ‘booming’ business. More and more people are looking to buy second-hand items including for personal, financial, and environmental gains.
A report from Statista2 shows that in 2019, sales in UK second-hand shops saw a 17.6% rise in value. The circular fashion 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 own website and 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 eCommerce business 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. In a niche, with a little search engine optimization, your customer will find you more easily.
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’ items 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 who come to you may have varying reasons for buying secondhand and are 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 thrift stores. These physical stores, like Goodwill, clearance stores, consignment shops, and the salvation army, already hold a wide selection of items for you to choose from.
You can find the best thrift store near you, hunt for items that will appeal to your customers, and buy them for 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 a retail store 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, garage sales, estate sales, moving sales, and flea markets are especially great for finding stock for your resale business 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. Encourage them to share the best items with you rather than donating to thrift shops.
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 when it comes to a successful online thrift store. You’ll need to be findable, accessible, and easy to buy from. You can choose to either host your own online thrift shop, or you can sell online via third-party eCommerce platforms.
The first, and most recommended option, is a self-hosted platform to set up your e-commerce website using an independent domain name and web hosting. 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 include:
Many people that start online thrift shop businesses don’t have the money to invest in a website. In such a case, consider putting your items on third-party online 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. Not least, you can save money for stock and other essentials while testing your idea.
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 by conducting market research. As the business grows and its needs change, your marketing plan and business model may also change. But having a clear outline of your marketing activities would help boost your potential online shopping success.
Here are the basics to make sure you cover before you get started.
Whereas you may start small, you'll need a business bank account and to either look after your own bookkeeping and accounting or hire professionals to help. As you prepare your business plan and conduct market research, also consider your goals and how big you might like your used clothing business to become.
Here, a plan may also include space for stock and growing a team at the right time. If you're starting out, we'd encourage you to start small and keep costs low at the beginning, and scale as you start to see success and cashflow allows.
Further, don't underestimate the work a new eCommerce business requires to really start flying. In the beginning, you'll likely have a load of tasks, and they all take time. Plan accordingly, and set realistic expectations to help you move forward.
Ready to start selling second-hand clothes on the Internet and appeal to the growing market of people going thrifting?
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 services, you’re well on your way to building a successful online store.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.