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Poppin' Tags: 7 Secrets for Effective Thrift-Store Shopping

July 09, 2015

Poppin' Tags: 7 Secrets for Effective Thrift-Store Shopping

So, you like thrift shopping? Don’t worry what Christian Lander says over at Stuff White People Like. You’re a vintage junkie! Be loud and be proud!

I have a strategy that I follow when I get my daily thrift store fix.  Some may say that I carry my thought process too far for a simple trip to the local Goodwill, but these points have proven successful for me. In fact, I am part of a 10-year-old business that is based completely on the art of the second-hand purchase.

Here are my 7 secrets for a successful trip to the thrift store:

  • Be regular. My mom has a t-shirt that says, “I pooped today.” My dad got it for her at (where else?) Goodwill. Isn’t he a peach? Everyone likes to be “regular” and being a regular thrift shop visitor is one of the most effective ways to guarantee that you score the good stuff. The inventory at any decent second-hand shop is constantly changing. The best items can be gone within a few hours, or sometimes even minutes, from the time they hit the sales floor. If you aren’t there frequently to check out what is new, you can bet that someone else will be.
  • Time your visits right. Try going to your local store at different times throughout the day. Learn their patterns. Many stores have set times during the day when they bring out new inventory. At some stores you can find frequent shoppers hovering around an empty space in the floor where they know a new cart of old stuff is about to be parked. I feel like this practice is a bit excessive, but I have grabbed some great items by simply being in the right place at the right time.

New items arrive near the back of the store

  • Always grab a shopping cart. You don’t think you’ll be buying much today? The day you fail to grab a cart is the day you score big (or miss out on something great because your hands were already full). There are days where I leave with an empty cart, but I would rather be prepared than miss out on the find of the day.

Grab a shopping cart!

  • Check the sales for the day. Our local thrift store usually selects a different category of items to place on sale every day. Color coded tags show what items are in that category and are therefore on sale. This is a good way for stores to move out “dead” inventory that has been sitting around for too long. It is also a good way for you to pick up those items that were initially priced too high. I try to keep a mental note of items that I would like to purchase but were tagged by overzealous employees. I wait for that category of items to go on sale, and then I purchase them at a discounted price.

Check the sale signs!

  • Establish a pattern within the store. I follow a mental map through our local store during my daily visits. My first stop is always the new item carts, which is in the back of the store. I always scan the store as I am traveling in that direction. My eyes always linger over the counter showcases where those items perceived as “more valuable” are placed. When the new carts and the showcases have been thoroughly examined (and possibly picked clean) I continue on my planned path. I head to the areas where I know there is more likely to be something good to grab, and then head to the areas where some digging is required. On a slow day, I can be in and out of the store in 5 or 10 minutes. On a good day, my trip is long and my cart is full.

Map your path

  • Grab it first, think about it later. Having done this for quite some time, I am usually able to spot a good buy pretty quickly. There are particular types of items that I will always buy if their condition is favorable. There are still moments of speculation and wonder, but I always grab the item first so that my thought process is not in vain. I recently witnessed a fight between two grown women over a Michael Kors purse that each claimed to have “seen it first”. It was despicable, but that is beside the point. The key to making sure you don’t miss out on a great item is grabbing it at first sight and placing it in your cart. In the age of the smartphone, you can do some research right there in the store. If you determine that the item isn’t worth your time and effort, you can always put it back on the shelf. You won’t get the chance to pick it up once it is in someone else's cart.

Grab and go.

  • Build relationships. Thrift store employees take a lot of crap from certain types of patrons. Unfortunately, some people just aren’t very pleasant. Don’t be one of those people. Get to know the employees at your local store. Learn their names, and use them when you tell them hello. Pay attention to what is going on in their lives and express interest. If you catch wind of their birthday, stick it in your phone calendar and bring them a small gift. As a regular shopper, this type of behavior (i.e. being nice) can benefit you as a shopper, but don’t do it for that reason. Do it simply because it is the right thing to do. Don’t expect special treatment and definitely don’t ask for it. You will be one of their favorite customers, and I guarantee that it will be rewarding one way or another.

Thank you for shopping

Tip overdose? Just take baby steps! Pick your favorite tip and implement it on your next thrifting adventure. Add a new tip each trip and, before you know it, you’ll be a thrift-shopping pro.  

For your enjoyment, here is my favorite musical group singing about their trip to the Thrift Shop. If you haven't checked out Pentatonix, do it now! 

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