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What Is a Consignment Shop? Here's Everything You Should Know

A consignment shop and thrift store are totally different. Here's everything you need to know before making a visit.

Written by
Jenna Mignano

Shopping secondhand is one of the best ways to shop for the planet. While it used to be taboo, we found that's no longer the case. In fact, the market is expected to double within five years, reaching $77 billion.

Not only is shopping secondhand fun—you never know what you're going to find!—but you're also getting amazing deals and preventing items from being sent to the landfill. If you need something new but aren't keen on getting it fresh from a factory, visiting a consignment shop is a planet-friendly alternative.

Although it sounds hard to believe, many women in the U.S. only routinely wear about half of what they own. This means many of the items sold in a consignment shop are only lightly—or never—used.

But what is a consignment shop, exactly—and how does it differ from traditional thrift stores? Here's everything you should know before making a visit.

Consignment Shop vs. Thrift Store

While "consignment shop" and "thrift store" are often used interchangeably, the two are very different.

Thrift stores often have drop-offs for donations. They resell your old items in-store, but you don't make a profit from anything that's sold. These stores, like Goodwill and the Salvation Army, are often non-profits that use people's donations to fund everything from community programs to disaster relief efforts.

When you take your goods to a for-profit consignment shop, however, you can make a profit on each item. When you first bring your items to a consignment shop, employees evaluate them and determine if they would like to buy them or not. Anything that passes the cut is then sold at the consignment shop.

The payout at a consignment shop works one of two ways. In some shops, the item is purchased from the seller immediately then sold at a markup. In others, the consignment shop pays the consignee a percentage of the sale price if and when the item is sold. This way, both the individual and the store are making a profit on an item that may have otherwise been discarded.

There's likely a consignment shop within a quick drive from your home, whether that's a family-owned store or chain like Plato's Closet, Buffalo Exchange, or Stuff Etc. There are also numerous online consignment shops, including ThredUP and TheRealReal.

4 Benefits of Shopping at a Consignment Shop

1. You Help Prevent an Absurd Amount of Waste

In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that while 17 million tons of textiles were being generated, only two million was recycled. The rest was burned or sent to a landfill. The main source of this municipal textile waste was clothing, followed by items like carpet and furniture.

With every passing year, clothing waste increases. This is why it's so important to support consignment shops rather than purchase new from fast fashion brands like (Shein and Princess Polly) that are contributing to the rapid output of low-quality garments.

Helping extend the lifespan of already-existing items is one of the best things you can do in your daily life to be more eco-friendly.

2. You're Shopping for Higher-Quality Pieces

As previously mentioned, consignment stores are often more selective than your typical thrift stores. They want to ensure they're giving customers a quality stock of items to look through.

There are many niches of consignment shops. Some exclusively handle luxury goods, while others will house more typical items you'd see from fast fashion brands. But one thing that doesn't change is consignment shops always inspect items for quality, making sure nothing is sold that's stained or damaged.

This way, you can be sure that even though your purchase is secondhand, you're bringing home high-quality items you'll be able to enjoy for years to come. This standard also helps keep the reputation of consignment shops strong.

3. You Get to Branch Out and Try New Styles

Shopping secondhand at a consignment shop is a fantastic way to try out some pieces you wouldn't normally go for. Sometimes you stumble upon something that's beautiful and just your size and you just have to give it a try. Who knows—by being open-minded while sifting through the racks, you may discover your personal style.

Just make sure you don't go too crazy and buy more than you can reasonably wear. But if you're someone who loves to switch up your style every couple of years, you can rehome old pieces as you bring in the new, allowing others to discover your unwanted goods and continue the cycle.

4. You Can Save a Considerable Amount of Money

Shopping secondhand often results in being able to buy an item that's like-new, minus the environmental impact of buying new. And by doing so, you're rewarded with a lower cost than buying that same piece new.

As shopping at consignment shops has risen in popularity in recent years, some price tags are higher than they used to be. But they're still not even close to their original prices. Plus, if you're selling your items at these stores as well, you might break even—getting an entirely new-to-you wardrobe for a fraction of the cost.

The utility of consignment stores is never-ending, and we hope their popularity will only continue to grow as more people consider how their purchasing habits can affect the planet.