Thrift stores are diverse and are not for snobs. Some may be very clean and some may not. We’re there for the merchandise and not the atmosphere. Breathe deep before opening the door and remember the thrift store market requires one to Dump that retail mindset to be successful.
I believe thrift stores are not places to shop to lists. Often times when I see tips on thrift, one of the first things I read is “Make Lists.” No! No! No! Shoppers make lists when they go to the grocery store. Making lists is so retail! It’s thrift passé. Why? Because we know that apples, butter and cream will be in supply at the grocery store. Who knows what will be available on any given day at the thrift store? Making a list closes the mind to just items on that list and treasure is lost. I believe what you need is a instinctual "knowing" of what is truly needed in your life, not a list.
Follows are detailed guidelines on etiquette and practice for a successful thrift experience. Remember, the key is to go frequently.
- Upon entering the store, always grab that shopping cart; 80% of the time, I end up with at least four items that total under $10.
- Do not worry if the cart if empty upon leaving the store. Keep a regular thrift shopping routine and the cart will overflow during different visits.
- Check to see if there are any sales that day. Sales are simple; 50% off purple tags, blue tags, etc. I have never seen anything but 50% off in thrift stores. Ever been in a department store where the rack sign reads, “Take an Additional 20% off the Already Reduced Price.” The tag has three prices but which price? We think we have it straight, but at the register we learn the 20% had already been taken off or worse, that item was not in the right place and does not count towards that promotion. I don’t like playing guessing games when I shop. I don’t like doing calculus either.
- Many thrift stores have 50% off most merchandise on Saturdays. This can be a mob scene and one might stand in line for 20 minutes to save $5. If thrifting on Saturdays is a must, go in the early evening when the mobs have died down. There will still be plenty of fresh merchandise because, unlike most stores, thrift stores stock all day.
- Thrift stores are not placing items on sale because the product is unpopular and not meeting sales expectations. Given this, a store-wide sale is going to have good stuff, not fourth-hand pickings. They just simply must move inventory.
- Seniors, check to see if there are additional senior discounts the day you are there. Some days offer an exclusive 50% off for seniors.
- Thrift stores might be cheap but they are not archaic. The big boys take plastic. Many stores have converted to bar coding and scanning.
- Do not worry about unmarked items. The cashier will offer a price and will be very fair.
- Cashiers take no offense if an item is put back at check out. Thrift store cashiers are not snobs and respect personal budgets.
- Learn the store different pricing structures. Of the major thrift retailers, many have different pricing structures - a good thing to know. For example, one thrift retailer prices all adult womens sweaters at $4.99, no matter if it originated at Target or Nordstrom. Other's price by quality.
- Don’t shop by season! Shop with reason.
- Don’t be intimidated by glass cases. Items in the cases are often not as pricey as one might assume.
- Don't ignore the racks of items packaged in clear plastic bags. Great stuff can be found in those bags.
- Don't go down the clothing racks looking at each, individual item. Think about clothing preference like fabric and color and learn how quality fabric feels.
- One thing sometimes leads to another. Once I found a gorgeous cashmere sweater in perfect condition in my size. A few items down, I found another and another. I really liked the style of the sweater's and was grateful she was so generous to the store. It's interesting to see how collections flow through the store. The same applied to the two suits that perfectly fit my husband.
- Even if the price seems a little high, buy it. The money goes to charity and stays within the community. Thrift store shopping is a sustainable practice. Sustainable is a popular word these days and for good reason.
- Don’t fall prey to brand name mania. Sure, it might be a DKNY sweater for $4.99, but will you wear it? Does it really fit?
- I’ve seen some people successfully negotiate prices. It’s rather uncommon. I don’t do it.
- Some cheaters attempt to hide merchandise in hopes they can grab it later at an upcoming half price sale. That’s one reason to poke and prod the shelves, which leads to the next item.
- Empty arms are a requirement to poke and prod the shelves; the shopping cart is a personal island.
- Some stores have sports and outdoor equipment outside. It will be obvious if this is the case and the area will most likely be marked with traffic cones.
- Thrift stores are snooze and lose places because most items are one of a kind. On the fence about something? Better take it. For example, I was not that excited to spend $250 the day I found the Pottery Barn sofa sleeper. But I quickly dive-bombed that sucker like I was five–year-old Superman, spread out wide and yanked that sales tag right off the back. I could hear the woman lurking in the shadows curse me.
- Putting it in the cart is like licking it or calling dibs.
- Stay close to the cart. For the most part, thrifters are a friendly lot that cast a wide net of diversity. Everyone has his or her own business and needs. However, I have had single items taken from my cart. Whoever took that pristine first edition hardback of Gump & Co. (the sequel to Forest Gump by Winston Groom; I wanted that for my personal library! If you read this, I figure you need to send me the copy! They retail $80, that’s probably why you took it. Shame on you. Bet you even read it! Wait a minute! That book was autographed too. Triple dog shame!
- Another reason to stay close to the cart is that the floor staff in thrift stores are some of the world’s fastest stockers. If they notice a cart left unattended for five minutes, they’ll restock it. I wonder if they’d make a good Olympic Cup Stacking Team. Is cup stacking an Olympics sport?
- When going to the dressing room, park the cart by the door. Carts by dressing rooms are on base. However if the cart is left unattended for a good long while it will be subject to restock. I think these stockers have some kind of radar on cart activity.
- Nice finds on clothes can be found by the dressing room. Someone liked it and pulled it out for a reason. That's where I found the Banana Republic vintage style jacket with $99.99 tags still attached.
- As previously mentioned, thrift stores stock all day. Once the grey/blue bins and clothes racks roll out of the backroom, they are fair game. Go and sort through them to get first pick. Stockers do not mind, in fact it makes their job a little lighter.
- Remember grabs from bins are okay but grabbing from a cart, no matter how full, is not playing fair. I believe in thrifting karma.
- Look up. There are items on high! Look down. Items down low.
- Be prepared to break personal rules. I had a rule about not buying upholstered items at thrift stores. Upon spotting the condition of that sofa sleeper, that rule was immediately filed. Some people have hang ups with shoes. Then they’ll spot those like new Via Spiga strappy sandals and it’s all over but the shouting. Besides if you have a shoe hang up, buy inserts. I bought four bags of three sets of anti-stinky feet inserts for $2.99 at, guess, the thrift store.
- Before checking out, check cart inventory. We are here to buy what we need. While going through the store it’s very easy to go nuts with these prices and very easy to end up with duplicates or items that were clutched in a psychotic break. Give the cart a once over.
- Check any clothing to see if it’s dry clean only. Is the added cost of dry cleaning worth the item? Do you think possibly this item could be hand washed? If you ruin it you're only out a few bucks not a couple hundred.
- Direct all questions to the cashiers.
- Once home with the booty, check Ebay on items that seem like they might be of high retail cost and don’t forget to add the cost of shipping. I’ve found vintage books that sell for $180, shirts in great condition that retail $185. I have never sold a thrifted item it’s just not my game.
Above all else, thrift for a few months and you'll soon find that you now have a set of Snake Eyes along with a good dose of Thrift Pride that will serve you well.