The world of online shopping has seen a huge disruption in 2020. As businesses around the world rushed to get their products and services into an online format, there all of a sudden became a huge amount of competition and variety within a relatively short period of time. Within the online boutique clothing industry, the effects were immediately noticeable.

New styles, fashions and opportunities seemed to present themselves at every corner. There was an explosion of new outfits to consider for both men and women, and numerous retailers began vying for their attention. But, there was one thing that didn’t seem to change a whole lot.

Indeed, online thrifting seems to have experienced little change over the past year. While it’s new counterparts are making the shift, thrift stores have been slower to adopt the online transition. Why is this?

 

Why Online Thrifting Has Been Slow on the Uptake

One of the main reasons that online thrifting has not become as popular as other online boutique clothing options is because of the categorization of the items. Take a moment to consider your favourite designer store or brand outlet. They usually have supplies coming from a number of vendors, but they know what to expect—some amount of sundresses, jackets, pants, underwear and other clothing items.

Conversely, thrift stores are unique in that their inventory comes almost entirely from donations. They already have a difficult time washing, pricing and sorting this clothing in their stores, but that problem increases tenfold on a digital platform. Indeed, it is a threat to their very business model.

portrait of a beautiful teenage girl and her wardrobe, with bokeh

How Thrifting Relies on In-Person Sales

Now, you may be thinking that this is not an insurmountable hurdle. Thrift stores just need to take pictures and streamline their sorting process, right? Wrong. One of the key appeals of thrifting is finding that perfect designer item on a steep discount. Pulling the wool over a thrift shop’s eyes (metaphorically, of course) is one way consumers are incentivized to purchase thrifted items.

But that can’t exist in an online environment. If there is a unique product identifier for each item that dictates a price and includes a photo, there can be none of this missed pricing or lower pricing that we have all come to love from the thrifting experience. It must be categorized as a unique item and scrutinized in that same fashion.

And speaking of pricing problems, thrifting is cheap for a very good reason. It is relatively low-effort to acquire inventory, and it comes from people who don’t want to haggle for a better price. But when you have to photograph, categorize, price, upload, sell, package, ship and organize all those different staff members, the price suddenly skyrockets.

As a result, the future of online thrift shopping doesn’t look nearly as promising as it does for online boutique clothing and other popular options. But, is anybody even trying?

 

The Current State of Online Thrifting

Though these deterrents exist and the online market is unforgiving, that has not stopped several online thrift stores from giving it a go.

Perhaps the most notable example is THREDUP, which functions as part-consignment and part-thrift store. They tout themselves as “The Largest Online Consignment & Thrift Store,” which may very well be true. Unfortunately, they do not cater to men on their platform, but they have children’s clothing, so make of that what you will.

Another popular online option is the aptly named thrifted.com. They do offer men’s clothing, so that is already a bonus over THREDUP, but they also divert their focus further away from thrifting. Indeed, thrifted.com seems to focus primarily on vintage clothing from popular brands, which often come with hefty price tags.

So, is online thrifting going to boom in the new year? The hurdles it faces are tall and difficult, but humanity typically perseveres in the face of adversity, so who knows? Let’s all just wish it the best luck possible!