Shopping Thrift Stores and Consignment Shops for Holiday Gifts

Since the recession began several years ago, sales at thrift stores have risen.  According to the National Association of Retail Professionals, sales in thrift and consignment stores grew 12.7 percent in 2009; during that same period of time, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported retail sales had dropped by about 7 percent. These stores continue to generate a great profit; in fact, in 2010, Goodwill industries generated about $2.09 billion in sales.

There’s no way around it: You can get good deals by shopping second hand. I recently discovered the love of consigning. Now when the children outgrow toys and clothes that are still in good condition, we take them in to a local kid’s consignment store. When we shop the next time, we find out how much we have on credit from sales of the items we handed in, and we use that credit to purchase new clothes.

I’ve had better luck with clean, well-conditioned items at the consignment store than I have at our local thrift stores, though if I spend time wandering the aisles at the thrift stores I can sometimes find good deals. I’ve said before, though, that I’m not a shopper. I’d rather spend my time doing other things than digging through items to buy, so for me, this consignment store works best.

The last time I shopped at the consignment store, I asked the clerk if she had a specific toy. She told me no, and I mentioned I’d probably have to buy it new at the store; another customer turned to me and told me she’d found this same toy at another second hand shop for about eight dollars cheaper than the going price at a department store. An added bonus: It was new in the box. She then went on to say she does a lot of second hand shopping for the holidays and that she has great luck finding low cost, new in box or gently used items.

I hadn’t given this much thought in the past , but now I am wondering how many people take advantage of second hand stores to purchase holiday gifts? If you decide to head out and do some second hand shopping, keep these tips in mind:

1.       Find one – or several – good store(s). Some second hand shops are cleaner than others; some offer better merchandise. The consignment shop that I frequent offers clothes that are not torn and tattered, and many that are new with tags; the toys that they sell work. I’ve shopped in other second hand stores that sold broken items. Once, my daughter bought an electric keyboard, only to find out, when we got it home, the left hand side of the toy didn’t work, which leads me to . . .

2.       Test it out. If it’s a toy that makes noise, turn it on and make sure it’s noisy. Check to see all pieces are there. We’ve purchased puzzles missing one or two pieces, and a game missing a piece that was, unfortunately, pivotal to playing! We’ve also gotten a lot of games that included every piece. Lift the lid, turn it on, hit a few buttons and make sure it is in working order.

3.       Inspect the item. Look for chips, cracks, tears, stains, and other marks. You don’t want to give a gift that looks beaten up or broken down. Open drawers and turn the items upside down and inside out, if possible. We once purchased a desk at a garage sale that we intended to paint; we got it home, only to find a nest of baby roaches inside (yes, ugh). Don’t take anything home until you’ve looked it over up, down, inside and out.  

4.       Give yourself adequate time. Shopping second hand is unlike department store shopping, where clothes are gathered according to style. You’ll rarely find two of the same of anything in a second hand store, so it may take some time to go through the merchandise. Plus, as stated above, you’ll want to inspect the items you do find.

Would you shop second hand for holiday gifts? Why or why not?


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Shopping Thrift Stores and Consignment Shops for Holiday Gifts

Kathy Murdock works as a full time writer and web designer. Recently planted in the middle of the deep south from the busy streets of Los Angeles, when she's not coding Wordpress websites or writing about women in business and thrifty motherhood, Kathy spends time photographing alligators, playing with her family, and running. ... More

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