How to thrift at the 8 best thrift stores

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What’s better than shopping sustainably while saving yourself some money? These thrift and consignment stores are full of hidden treasures at affordable prices.

I love the thrill of discovering the perfect gift for a friend or finally hunting down an item I’ve been searching for. That said, keeping a few golden rules of thrifting in mind will make the process easier. As someone who’s committed to shopping sustainably, I’ve spent more than 10 years searching local thrift shops, consignment stores, and online to discover the best deals possible, and have learned through thousands of hours of hard shopping, deal-finding and self-education:

Alternative to thrift stores, learn more about selling on consignment or selling to a pawn shop.

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How to successfully thrift

Browse multiple shops

Prepare to spend some time on the thrift hunt if you’re looking for a specific item to find the best price. Online, prices skewer drastically depending on the seller, site, demand, and item for sale; and you never know what you’ll stumble upon in person. For example, Vox reports that the price of the exact same item on online resale sites varies widely depending on the seller and the site. A pair of black Adidas sneakers, for example, can be found for anywhere between $20 to $65, even when the condition, size, and style are nearly identical.

When I was searching for a Panic at the Disco t-shirt, searching multiple online shops not only helped me find it faster, but also cheaper, as I could compare prices from multiple sellers. Though several sellers had it listed between $22 to $30, I found it available for $15. SCORE!

Double check the best time to buy

One thing I’ve learned from secondhand shopping: you can sometimes land a deep discount by buying a thrifted item during a sale or with a special offer.

Many online thrift stores will offer discounts on your first purchase. ThredUp sometimes offers 50% off plus free shipping while Goodwill occasionally has free shipping. But don’t hesitate on a purchase for too long, as availability can change quickly.

Read up on the return policy

Before you officially purchase your goods, make sure you know what the return policy is. On Poshmark, you can only return items if it never arrives or doesn’t match the online description — but you can’t return items in the wrong size. Goodwill, on the other hand, accepts returns within 30 days of purchase with a receipt but only in exchange for store credit.

So before you end up with buyer’s remorse, re-read the return policy. Sometimes I’ve avoided the hassle of returning items by reselling or donating them back to second-hand shops.

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Search “thrifting stores near me” or “second hand stores near me” to find popular destinations

The main perk of purchasing from consignment shops like Buffalo Exchange and Plato’s Closet is that they only sell high-quality items that are still in style, so you won’t waste time browsing through sales racks of unfashionable junk.

Goodwill

Goodwill is an absolute treasure trove: you can discover entertainment like books, games, and movies, home decor, accessories, clothing in any size and color — even wedding dresses. If you can’t make it to one of the 3,300 Goodwill stores across North America, you can shop its online auction site that ranges from upscale jewelry and clothing to items with one cent shipping. 

You can also shop for books, movies, video games, and CDs through a network of Goodwills across the nation. The Goodwill Books site is a personal favorite of mine — if you sign up for the brand’s newsletter, you’ll occasionally receive free shipping discounts.

On TrustPilot, some reviewers complain that in-store prices have risen while online prices are more fair.

Buffalo Exchange

Buffalo Exchange is a fashion resale brand that sells gently used men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing and accessories in 17 states throughout the United States. Buffalo Exchange occasionally runs $1 clothing sales and donates to nonprofit charities with a “Tokens for Bags” program.

Plato's Closet

Similar to Buffalo Exchange, Plato’s Closet is a national consignment franchise that accepts name-brand clothing, handbags, and accessories. It’s a popular destination for young men and women, as it keeps a curated inventory of trendy items from brands like Adidas, Nike, Urban Outfitters, and American Eagle.

Salvation Army

Buying items from the Salvation Army’s thrift stores support its Adult Rehabilitation Centers. Much like Goodwill, the Salvation Army sells a large variety of items ranging from women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing, furniture, household goods, and appliances.

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Search “online thrift store”

Online thrift stores are very similar to their in-person counterparts, but with one important caveat: you generally have to pay for shipping in addition to any purchase. You can typically pay with credit card or PayPal.

Etsy

Etsy is home to every homemade good you can imagine, from face masks and art to handcrafted jewelry. But it’s also home to a thriving refurbished and thrift community, with sellers like Honeycutt Vintage selling thrifted books, knick knacks, vintage clothing and even refurbished furniture.

Etsy, unlike Poshmark and Mercari, is accredited by the BBB. Negative reviews on TrustPilot tend to focus on customer service complaints and substandard items while positive reviews note high-quality products.

Poshmark

Poshmark is a mishmash of all kinds of home goods, clothing, accessories, shoes, toys, art, and assorted knick knacks from brands big and small. You can search the site for specific items, or browse brands like Barnes & Noble, Victoria’s Secret, and more. Poshmark is not accredited by the BBB, but it has an average B rating with a total of 1,728 complaints in the past three years.

In my personal experience, the best way to get a good deal on Poshmark is by “liking” or “bundling” items. Liking a post will prompt sellers to reach out with a discounted price on the product and/or shipping. Before you purchase something, see if the seller will give you a discount! Likewise, bundle items from the same seller together and make an offer to get a discounted rate.

Also, don’t be afraid to leave a comment! When I asked a seller to create a discounted bundle of five romance books for me, she included free shipping and mailed my book bundle the next day.

ThredUp

Like Poshmark and Mercari, ThredUp is an online consignment shop. Unlike them, ThredUp only accepts women’s and children’s clothing and accessories. In addition to searching the site for what you want, you can purchase a Goody Box full of 10 carefully selected items based on your budget, size, and style. ThredUp also offers curated Rescue Boxes with items that need TLC or have been in inventory for some time at a lower price.

ThredUp has an A rating with the BBB; however, reviewers on TrustPilot complain of bad customer service, odorous clothing, and problems returning clothing. 

Mercari

Mercari is an online consignment shop that accepts anything that can be shipped, which means that you can discover a plethora of goods there. Mercari has a fun twist compared to other online consignment shops: it’s a bidding site, much like eBay, where you make offers against competitors. Select cities benefit from a Mercari Local service that boasts free delivery powered by Uber — something not offered by Etsy, Poshmark, or ThreadUp.

Mercari is not accredited by the BBB but holds an A+ rating. Mercari actually ranks the highest on TrustPilot out of all four online thrift stores reviewed here, ranking 3.8 out of five stars. Many buyers commented that the site is better than competitors, though buyers had mixed reviews regarding customer service.

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Bottom line: Best thrift stores?

At the end of the day, you’re not going to go wrong shopping at a thrift store: they’re great for your budget and the environment.

Goodwill tends to be the most affordable out of all these options, and searching its online sites is straightforward with its filter options. Watch Goodwill’s online auctions for cheaper deals, though you never know what will be available.

Out of all the online thrift stores available, Mercari tends to have the widest breadth of goods available, making it easier to find what you’re looking for. Plus, price drops and offers make purchases more affordable.

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Kaitlyn Arford is an award-winning freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the American Kennel Club, Betterpet, and Cuteness. She loves writing stories that help people live better lives. As a lifelong Midwesterner, and current resident of Louisville, Ky., she is obsessed with finding the best deal. Learn more at kaitlynarford.com.

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