I’ve talked extensively in the past about how to thrift and I have shared with you guys a variety of tips regarding thrifting. Maybe after reading some of my posts, you’re asking yourself how to start an online thrift store of your own to help augment your income.
Here’s a definitive guide for those who want to start an online thrift store.
Find Your Niche
The clothing industry is a very saturated market. Maybe it’s as saturated as the food industry. Why? According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, clothing belongs to the Physiological Needs which is the foundation base in the hierarchy and at the same level as food, shelter, and water.
And because it’s considered as one of our basic needs, it obviously becomes one of the highest-selling commodities in the whole world.
Originally, clothing is made to protect our fragile bodies from harsh elements. But as years go by, aligned with the changes in our society’s structure, economics, norms, and beliefs, our clothing transitioned not only as a protection for our bodies but also as a tool for our self-expression as well.
There are clothing shops in almost every corner of big cities. And with the advent of technology, the internet has also become filled with online clothing shops.
It may sound intimidating at first, but just like any other business in the world. You need to find your own little space and that’s your niche or target market.
Start with one niche and just grow it once you’ve gotten the hang of this business. I suggest that your niche should not be that narrow and should not be very big as well, but sufficient enough to generate the income you need.
Some of the niches that I can suggest are:
- Office clothes for women
- Office clothes for men
- Winter clothes for women (for those who live in colder climates)
- Winter clothes for men (for those who live in colder climates)
- Denim Garments (Can be an assortment of denim pants, tops, dresses, and bags)
- Upcycled and Re-done Clothing
- Avant-garde Garments
- Beach Garments (Swimwear, Coverups, and other Beach Accessories)
- High-fashion garments for men and women
I personally started with office clothes for women. But after a few years of building my inventory and fashion knowledge base, I then branched out to streetwear and high-fashion garments.
Part of finding your niche is also identifying your target price point. In my case, since I started with office clothes for women and since I wanted to be known as the go-to online shop for affordable yet fashionable workwear then I set my price to P299 (around USD6 as of the time of writing) for tops and P499 for dresses (around $10).
After spending so much time online and offline and comparing the prices of different sellers, I can say that it’s not the cheapest but definitely not the most expensive as well. It’s kind of in the middle.
My target price point is still open to negotiation which means I often sell the tops and dresses lower than that especially when customers buy multiple items.
The challenge then for me is to look for a very affordable source of high-quality inventory so I could cover my operational cost and also earn some profit. We will go back to this discussion when we talk about your inventory.
Create a Brand
Most people think of branding as as basic as the name and logo of a company. Yeah, sure those are parts of branding and you can start with those. But as early as possible, think of what you’d like your business to be known for. For me, that’s the core of branding and everything else is what it’s made of.
Start with the Name
You have three basic routes that you can go to when it comes to creating a name for your business. You can either:
- Create a Unique and Brandable Name
- Create a Name that Basically Tells What Your Business is About
- Combination of 1 & 2
When I first started, I went the second route and created a store name that has the words ‘Clothing Shop’ in it. My succeeding spin-off stores are basically a combination of a brandable name and what the business is about.
I don’t think that there’s a wrong and right answer for this one but one thing that you should bear in mind is that it should be very easy to remember.
Again, there are probably thousands of online thrift stores in your country (possibly more) and you need to make your shop’s name very easy to recognize and very easy to remember.
Your chosen shop’s name should also be used as your name in your correspondence such as email and should also be used as your shop’s name in all the online selling websites that you will register to.
Create a Logo
Maybe you’re wondering what the logo is for if it’s just an online thrift store. Well, the logo will be used as your Avatar in online shopping platforms such as Carousell, eBay, Grailed, etc.
Create a logo that best represents your shop and just like creating your shop’s name, make a logo that can be easily remembered by your customers.
Align your Inventory with your Branding
If you want to be known as the go-to shop for affordable and wearable avant-garde pieces, then refrain from posting items that are not aligned with the design aesthetic of your brand. This is one of the easiest ways to build a loyal following.
Only buy and post inventories that are aligned to your brand’s aesthetic. I understand that sometimes when we go thrifting, we see a lot of items that can potentially bring us additional income even though they’re not aligned with our brand aesthetics.
Here’s a pro-tip, create a secondary online shop where you’re going to put all other inventories that are not aligned to your main brand but still could bring you profit.
This way, you’re not wasting opportunities that will come your way when you’re out there thrifting.
Set-up Your Online Presence
One of the best practices is to really have your own website. But owning a website can cost you money. There’s the domain name, hosting fee (Check out my quick review about Hostinger if you’re planning to host your own website) and it will also cost you a lot of time and effort especially if you don’t know how to do it.
It will even cost you extra money if you’re going to hire someone to do your website.
If you don’t have the financial resources yet, I suggest that you put this on hold first and create your shop on existing selling platforms such as (in the Philippines):
- Facebook Marketplace
Some of these websites are also available in other countries. I suggest that you set up your shop for the most popular selling platform available in your country.
This will help speed up your sales. And also, don’t hesitate to set up accounts on all of these websites as long as you have a clear plan on how you’re going to manage all of it.
Set-up Your Payment Mediums
For some online selling platforms such as Carousell, I receive the payments via bank transfers and for Grailed, I receive the payment via Paypal. If you will be selling locally, I highly suggest that you open a bank account from a bank with the widest network in your country.
And also, as cashless technology is becoming more and more used these days, I also suggest that you also open the most popular digital payment option in your country. In the Philippines the most popular would be:
- Online Bank transfers (of course)
Register Your Business
If you’re planning to do this for the long haul then I suggest that you register your business with your local authorities. If you’re in the Philippines, I suggest that you register your business in DTI and with BIR.
There are so many benefits of having a registered business and it also adds confidence to your prospective customers that you’re not a fly-by-night market, most especially if you’re going to be selling high-fashion items.
If you’re not yet sure whether you want to do this for a long time or not and if you’re going to sell only personal items occasionally (like decluttering sale or personal stuff garage sale), then you may opt-out of this process.
In an article on Inquirer last June 19, 2020, DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez said that sellers that are operating “intermittently or irregularly” as well as those selling homemade items as a hobby are not required to register.
Of course, rules are subject to change so be sure to keep yourself updated by checking the DTI website from time to time.
Build Your Inventory
Once you’ve done all the steps above, then it’s now time to build your inventory. Again, your inventory should be aligned with your branding.
As I’ve said above, if you want to be known for a specific niche like for example affordable avant-garde pieces, then your shop should carry the most affordable, high-quality avant-garde pieces possible.
When building your inventory, you should always keep these things in mind:
- Silhouettes of your garments: Are you buying inventory aligned to your brand?
- Quality of your garments: Does the quality of your garments will make your customer feel very happy when they purchase them?
- Target Selling Price: Is your target selling price still affordable for your target market even after factoring in the following:
- Actual Purchase Cost of Item
- Cost of Acquiring the Item (Transpo, Labor Cost in Purchasing Inventory (Time and Effort), etc)
- Business Operation Cost (Cleaning, Maintenance which includes storage and packaging, Labor Cost in Operating your Business, etc)
- Your Target Profit
Another thing that you should also do while building your inventory is to build a database of your inventory sources.
Personally, I do have a list of thrift shops that I go to which include their addresses, and contact numbers. I also list the online stores that I buy my inventory from and keep a mental track of what I usually buy from them.
I also try my best to build relationships with the sales staff by doing small talks while I’m checking out to make sure that they remember me the next time I visit their shop. Most of the time, it’s easier to ask for a discount when they know you.
After purchasing your first batch of inventory, do make an Excel file of their cost and the date of purchase. Make this a habit so you’ll always have a record of your purchases.
This is one way to ensure that you have something to look at when you study the performance of our business.
Cleaning, Posting Online and Storage
After purchasing your items, cleaning them should be your next priority. I personally wash most of my garments using the washing machine.
For delicate materials such as silk and chiffons, I usually handwash them gently. So also bear this in mind when you buy your inventory. It will be very difficult and expensive to clean your inventory if most of them will be silks and chiffons.
When washing your garments, use a detergent that leaves less soap residue on the clothes. Also, use a fabric conditioner to make the clothes smell fresh.
As much as you can, dry the clothes under the sun to further clean and disinfect them. This will be a challenge during the rainy seasons and in countries where the sun does not shine that much.
And also, to prevent possible damage during washing, I always put the clothes in laundry wash bags.
That’s why I try to do most of my posting during the dry season as drying the clothes is so much easier during this season.
Cleaning Bags, Shoes, and Accessories
I’m not sure if you’re planning to add bags, shoes, and accessories to your inventory but in case you do so, here’s what I usually do with them as soon as I get home from the thrift stores.
I used to use color-safe bleach and water solution to disinfect and clean the leather and non-leather accessories. But after watching some other Youtube tutorials, I then switch to using vinegar and water solution and I add a small amount of fabric conditioner as well. They say that it’s more effective in killing the roots of molds.
Please be sure to try this on a very small portion of the leather bag at the bottom before continuing on. This is just to make sure that your leather item will not have an adverse reaction to the solution.
I soak the cleaning fabric on the disinfecting solution that I created and squeeze it real tight to remove excess water. Using the damp fabric, I clean every nook and cranny of the item and let it dry a bit by exposing it to indirect sunlight. Sunlight is the ultimate killer of molds so if you have leather goods that have molds then let them bathe under the indirect sunlight for a short period of time.
Afterward, I clean them again using all-purpose cleaners suitable for leather goods. This is very useful for hard-to-remove dirt and even some pen marks. I air dry them for a bit before continuing on in cleaning the hardware with a metal polisher. After polishing the metal, I air dry it for a bit again before applying the leather conditioner.
After air-drying them again for the nth time (LOL!) that’s the time I take pictures, measurements and post them online.
Remove Creases and Folds
After washing and drying the garments, the next thing I do is to steam the garments to remove creases and folds. I don’t take pictures of the garments without steaming them first.
Imagine yourself as a prospective customer and seeing clothes full of wrinkles, does it look attractive to you? It doesn’t right? Your customers already know that they’re buying second-hand clothes, there’s no need to rub it more on them.
When I started, I just used the regular flat iron to iron out the wrinkles. However, flat irons, leave marks on some types of fabrics that’s why I stopped using them. I then bought a portable steam iron to do the job which apparently didn’t last that long.
The steamer that I use now is Conair Home Upright Fabric Steamer Deluxe. I’ve been using this for more than a year now and I have never had any issues yet. And also, in my experience, taking out the wrinkles on clothes is so much faster using a steamer than any ordinary flat iron.
Take Pictures and Post Online
After steaming the clothes, I leave them outside for a bit of time to dry them out. And then afterward, I take pictures of them on a mannequin.
It’s easier to let your customer imagine how the garments will fit a body if it’s worn by a mannequin. The mannequin skin tone that I chose is a bit on the tan shade since my target customers are from where I’m from.
There are many mannequins to choose from and I suggest that you get a full-body mannequin with a skin tone that is relatable to your target market so you can take pictures of both tops and bottoms (garments) beautifully.
I take pictures of the whole mannequin with the garment (to be sold e.g. blouse) and the accessory garment (e.g. skirt not being sold) on and I always use it as my first picture and then I also take a closer picture of the garment that I’m selling (front, back, sides, details, and flaws if there’s any).
I usually take pictures every morning so I could take advantage of the natural light. But since I take pictures indoors, I supplement the light by using a ring light (Aff).
Once pictures are taken, I will then take their measurements and post the complete details on my selling account. I don’t rely on the size indicated on the tags because of the following reasons:
- Some preloved clothes don’t have their complete tags on
- Preloved clothes size may not reflect their original size possibly because of wash and wear
After posting the items online, I pack each garment individually in a clear plastic bag with an identifying code (number) and store them in my storage cabinet (also coded). I pack them individually to prevent the possibility of color transfer or any form of damage that they might incur from other garments.
Storage and Maintenance
For garments, I used to store them in huge plastic bins. But after accumulating so much inventory, I find it tedious and a bit back-breaking to constantly lift these boxes every time an item gets bought. I then bought some plastic cabinets to store my garments.
I only have one room allotted for inventory storage and I’ve already exceeded its capacity. To save some space and to maximize the available space, I stacked these cabinets on top of each other. Each drawer is also labeled to make it easier for me to find the garments.
Please take note that if you are also planning to stack one cabinet on top of another to save some space, make sure to check if their bases are made for stacking. Also, ask the sales support staff in the store where you will be buying the cabinets from if the plastic cabinet of your choice can be stacked.
For leather bags, I put reusable silica gel packets on their pockets and compartments and place them inside dust bags. I then store them on shelves to protect them from getting damaged by other inventories. I also put clean used clothes in them to maintain their shapes. I use shelves to store my bags. Please do note that not all shelves are heavy-duty so be sure to ask the store staff for some guidance.
For shoes, I put them in plastic shoe boxes with silica gel packets as well. To minimize the chance of molds especially during the wet season, I also bought an electric dehumidifier and turn it on on a daily basis for at least a couple of hours a day. I also keep the storage room door close especially during the rainy season to prevent moisture from coming in. I leave it open though during summer to keep the air flowing.
For suits, blazers, and leather jackets, I don’t store them in plastic drawers because I’m afraid that it will damage them. I hang them in clothes racks and they are also placed in individual plastic garment bags to protect them from dust and dirt.
Aside from the above-mentioned stuff, I also used the following to keep my inventories in good shape prior shipping them to customers.
- Lint Rollers
- Fabric Shaver and Lint Remover
- Clear Plastic Packaging of Various Sizes
- Sticky Tapes
- Sewing Kit for minor repairs
- Shipping pouches (Free from Couriers)
In all my listings, I set the expectation to prospective customers that I will only ship every Saturday. However, due to the slow down of business during this time of the Covid 19 pandemic, I have more time to accommodate shipping parcels at least twice or thrice a week.
In my experience, customers always ask for shipping options. My default shipping option is via LBC/JRS. However, Metro Manila customers, especially those who order multiple items, prefer the same-day shipping service provided by Grab or Lalamove (and other related services). In these cases, then I will gladly send it via their preferred service provider.
As soon as they pay, the first thing I do is to retrieve the items and repacked them in new clear plastic bags. I don’t throw their original packaging and I reuse them since they have the coding system that I use to keep track of my inventory. Prior to repacking them, I inspect the item for the last time and remove lint and loose threads if there are any.
My minimum goal is to ensure that they receive the item in the condition that I have described in my listings. Sometimes, I find flaws that I failed to declare when I listed the item. In cases like this, I don’t ship the item anymore without confirming this with them. Usually, those items end up with an additional 50% discount or I just give it to them for free if they’re still interested to receive those kinds of items despite the flaws.
Once the items have been packed, sealed, and sent to couriers. I then contact them to inform them of the tracking numbers.
I track these parcels a day or two after they have been brought to the courier to ensure that I’m on top of the situation. Luckily, I have not lost any packages yet. I did experience though delays and misrouted items. And, in those instances, I have kept in touch with bough couriers and customers in tracking those items down until they get delivered.
Selling Online Tips
This is actually a very broad topic to cover, heck, almost half of my entire blog content is about this topic. But I’m just going to briefly cover some important topics here.
Post your Inventory to Multiple Websites
I’ve mentioned above already the selling websites where you could register to. Those are the most popular selling websites as of the time of writing in the Philippines.
If you’re from another country, I suggest that you find out the three most popular online selling platform and start from there.
If you’re a one-man team like myself, I suggest that you maintain at least 2 – 3 accounts at first. For example, open an account on eBay, Carousell, and Instagram and sell your items there.
Make sure that you update each website to avoid displaying unavailable items that might trigger customer dissatisfaction.
What I do is, if a customer buys an item on eBay, I will immediately mark them as ‘Reserved’ in Carousell and Instagram so customers will know that they’re not available anymore.
If you don’t do this, customers might buy an item from another platform for an item that is already sold on a different website. You get the drift, right?
Having accounts on multiple selling websites create more opportunities for your shop to be seen by more people. More people that can see your inventory means more chances of selling your stocks.
Observe your Competition and Learn from Them
As I’ve said at the beginning of the article, the clothing industry is a very saturated market. So that means that it’s a cutthroat industry.
Do take some time to observe your competition and learn from them. Take their best practices, tweak them, and apply them to your own business.
A small caveat, do not spend too much time comparing your shop to them, and don’t get too emotional about it. You don’t know the odds that they’ve been through to get to the point where they are at right now.
Don’t be hard on yourself too when you see them selling tons of items left and right while your shop tanks. Just focus on what you can learn from them and what you can apply to your shop.
Each selling platform has an algorithm set by of course the business behind those platforms. To ensure that a wide variety of people sees your posts, make sure to update frequently.
Try to post new stocks at least once a week.
Most successful sellers that I see online commit to a fixed day when they’re posting their new inventories. I personally don’t have a fixed schedule since I’m not focusing on one platform anyway.
But I always ensure that I have new listings on a weekly basis.
Be Open to Haggling
Everyone loves deals and discounts. Be sure to factor this in when you’re also deciding on your price points. Be generous in giving discounts without compromising your profit.
It can only be possible if you can find very cheap but high-quality products to sell and if you can maintain a very low overhead cost.
Take Care of Your Customers
Take care of every single customer that will send you a message on any of your chosen selling platforms. Their inquiries mean that they find your items suitable to their taste and that inquiry might turn into sales.
What I always do is try to answer all of their questions as timely as possible. If there are questions that are left unanswered then I politely tell them that I’ll get back to them to verify the needed information (usually about shipping cost or when they’re confirming the actual measurements).
If you do take good care of your customers, then they will be happy to support your business. Part of taking care of your customers is living up to the expectation that you’ve set on your listings.
I always make sure that when they receive their purchased items, these items are shipped on time, clean, and without any undeclared flaws.
I also try my best to exceed their expectation by providing freebies to every parcel that I send out. Even if they just bout one piece of clothing and even if it’s the cheapest I have, he/she will still get a freebie.
Giving a freebie might be out of your budget at the beginning, it’s ok not to give any but if you can make handwritten ‘Thank you’ notes then that would be awesome too.
I will divide the final thoughts section into multiple parts to put emphasis on a couple of items that I hope could help you start an online thrift store.
Stay Focus, Consistent and Steady
Starting a business is hard. Maintaining it is harder. But so is employment and any other things in this life. Do not worry if you feel that you’re moving slow. The important thing to focus on is – you’re moving forward. When you are starting up, the slowness of growth is natural and can be usually attributed to the following:
- Lack of Knowledge
- Lack of Skills
- Lack of Resources
These three things can easily be addressed as days go by as long as you keep on moving forward. The important thing is that you don’t lack drive and you don’t lack motivation. You are the driver of this business and the growth of your business depends on you.
The growth of your business will depend on how you will grow as its driver.
Fail, Learn and Move Forward
You will make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You will make mistakes, tons of it actually. You will make mistakes in choosing the right inventory, pricing, etc.
Mistakes will happen and it will happen continuously as you go along. The important thing to bear in mind is that you will also learn from those mistakes.
You will learn from those mistakes and you will use those mistakes as your stepping stone to improve and grow this business.
Entrepreneurship can be a Lonely Road (Sometimes)
Your dream to start an online thrift store and make it big is not an easy road to take. But the good news is, there’s nothing easy in life. Life is peppered with struggles and hardships which makes us better individuals if we chose to. Entrepreneurship can be alienating especially if no one in your family or circle of friends shares your passion.
And I hope that in your journey as an entrepreneur, you will accept the fact that sometimes especially during the startup phase, the only one clapping for you and patting you on your back is yourself. And it’s ok.
Be Open to Changes and Opportunities
This online thrift shop that you are planning to start might just be a stepping stone to your future endeavor. Or perhaps, you will discover along the way that this business might not be your cup of tea.
No one knows where the wind will blow next but trust your gut and be open to changes and be open with opportunities that you will encounter in your entrepreneurship journey.
Regarding the second-hand market business itself, it’s expected to grow much bigger in the years to come because of our environmental issues coming from fast fashion.
A lot more people are starting to embrace the fact that it’s ok to buy preloved and that it’s ok to buy second hand. personally, I’m seeing this continuous growth ever since I started. I’m seeing new people capable of buying brand new designer clothes supporting the preloved market.
The opportunities in this industry are almost limitless. Keep your eye open to changes and opportunities that will present themselves to you as you grow your online thrift store.
Celebrate your Sucess
First, I’d like to congratulate you on reading this whole post. At this point, you have probably read more than 4700 words already. You didn’t find this post by chance. You searched the internet looking for tips on how to start your online second-hand clothing store and you found this post.
This is already a success that you should celebrate. You’ve already gotten past the mental barrier of whether you’ll start or not. You are really intending to start and I say that you go for it.
You will experience successes aside from failures and you should always celebrate your success. Celebrate the day when you finish opening up your multiple online selling accounts, celebrate your first sale, celebrate your first $100 profit, etc.
Celebrate your success and use it as your platform to push yourself harder and farther until you reach your goals in life.
And from one online seller to another, I’m wishing you the best of luck! I hope that this post helped you in one way or another. Do let me know how it goes, will ya?How to Start an Online Thrift Store Click To Tweet