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6 Dos and 6 Don’ts of Reselling from Thrift Stores

Threecolts
Dave Consolazio
Published
November 21, 2023
Modified
May 7, 2024
A woman sourcing clothing for reselling from a thrift store.

During my time as an Amazon reseller, reselling from thrift stores always held a special place in my heart. I made a living doing retail arbitrage, which is the act of buying products from retail locations and then selling them online for a profit. I found all kinds of great products to resell at big box stores like Target and Walmart, but the main issue I ran into was that other people doing the same thing as me were running into those same products. This created a race to the bottom on Amazon with everyone trying to fight for the lowest price on the same items we had all purchased in stores.

Avoiding this issue is what made thrift store flipping so exciting to me. Every thrift store you visit has a unique collection of products; you never know what you are going to find on any given day. And when you do find profitable items to resell in your thrift store arbitrage endeavors, there aren’t dozens of other sellers flipping the same things. I made bigger per-item profits reselling from thrift stores than I did from any other retail stores, and I’ve compiled this list of dos and don’ts on thrift store flipping to help you on your journey.

DO: Spend Plenty of Time Sourcing Books and CDs

Haphazard bookshelves in a thrift store

Virtually every thrift store has huge sections of books and media. In many cases, these sections have a flat rate on each type of media as well, such as $3.99 for hardcover books or $5.99 for video games. Flat pricing makes it much easier to determine which items are worth buying because as soon as you have figured out what your break-even points are after shipping and selling fees, you’ll know exactly what a book or CD needs to be selling for online to make it worth your while.

While you can find value in used video games and CDs if you look hard enough, you’d be surprised at how many CDs are donated still brand-new in their original packaging. The same goes for books, which may have sat on a shelf unread and are still in pristine condition. You can readily find new or like-new books and CDs at almost any thrift store, which makes this the ideal section to get started in.

When I first started sourcing for products to resell from thrift stores, I was searching each book and CD one by one by typing their titles out in the search bar, which took forever. With ScoutIQ’s scanning app, I was able to scan books and have all of their sales details come up instantly, making it easy to see which books I could resell on Amazon FBA for a profit. Enlisting the help of a scanner will speed up the process considerably and make sourcing for thrift books to sell much more efficient.

DON’T: Buy Items That Don’t Have Big Enough Profit Margins

When you are first getting started in thrift store arbitrage, it’s easy to get excited and want to buy every book that you can potentially make a profit flipping. But when it comes to thrift shops, I personally was always looking for quality over quantity.

Let’s say you purchase a book for $10 that you have calculated you will make a $2 profit after shipping and sales fees. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a 20% return on investment (ROI), but that’s assuming everything goes perfectly. Consider some potential issues:

  • What if another seller comes along that offers the product you are selling at a lower price?
  • What if it takes a while to sell, and those $10 are tied up in inventory for a long time?
  • What if it gets returned?

When I was reselling from thrift stores, I only bought products that I was projecting my ROI at 100% or higher on. I’d make occasional exceptions for items I knew with a high degree of certainty from experience would sell quickly, but overall I wanted to aim to at least double my money. This left me with plenty of room for error, so in the event that the price changed or Amazon fees changed or something else happened, I was still likely to wind up with a profit even if it wasn’t as large as I’d originally hoped for.

DO: Focus on New Items Regardless of Category

Due to the fact that they rely entirely on donations to stock their shelves, thrift stores have a reputation for being filled only with secondhand stuff. And while there certainly are plenty of used items in every thrift store, people who haven’t spent much time in thrift stores would be shocked to see how many brand-new items are on display every day.

Families clearing out their garage or people downsizing into a smaller apartment can’t take everything with them, and they tend to feel bad about throwing away brand-new things. They opt to donate them instead, and their trash may be your treasure. I found brand-new puzzles and board games on a weekly basis that were almost always profitable flips. And sometimes I’d stumble on random things like a crochet kit or Rolodex that I knew nothing about that still wound up being highly profitable items to resell.

Thanks to product scanners, you don’t personally have to know anything about a brand-new item to know if it’s profitable to resell online. All you have to do is scan it, see what it’s selling for and how well it’s selling, and compare that to the price it is being sold for at the thrift shop. If it’ll net you a nice profit, grab it. It’s that simple. While I’d recommend ScoutIQ for thrift store flippers who plan on focusing most of their efforts on books, InventoryLab’s Scoutify 2 app is an excellent option for sellers who plan on branching out into a wide range of product types.

DON’T: Overlook Old Electronics

Considering that we see lines around the block every time Apple is dropping the new iPhone, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that people only care about the latest technology. And that’s true for many people, but a valuable lesson to keep in mind when reselling from thrift stores is that all items are worth what someone out there is willing to pay for them.

One time I spotted a PalmPilot that was still in great shape in its original box for $15. PalmPilots were all the rage when they first came out in the late 1990’s as a digital pocket organizer, but they eventually became obsolete when smartphones became commonplace. So I wasn’t expecting much when I looked up the model number on Amazon, but to my surprise there was still a demand for these.

Perhaps someone stuck in their ways who still used one had just broken theirs and wanted to replace it. Or maybe someone nostalgic for a time before smartphones had traded in their iPhone for a flip phone and needed some old-fashioned technology to keep notes on. I don’t know the story of the person who bought mine, but I sold it for $109 on Amazon FBA. If you see something in good condition in the electronics aisle, don’t assume there isn’t a market for it without checking first.

DO: Find a Niche to Specialize In

As I’ve already covered in this guide, there are some general rules that can apply to everyone who is thrift store flipping such as looking up books, new CDs, and all newly sealed items. But in addition to those solid profit generators, it’s nice to have an area of expertise when it comes to reselling thrift shop products.

For example, art and clothing are two categories that I know very little about. Thrift stores are loaded with clothes, and people who know which brands and styles to look for can find plenty of clothing items they can flip for a big profit. Similarly, someone with a discerning eye for art would know how to recognize a real painting from a fake one, or a print of an artist in high demand.

I have always been interested in toys, games, and electronics, so I turned these into my area of expertise. I had fun looking up action figures and gadgets as I explored thrift stores, and over time I developed a solid understanding of what sold well and what didn’t. I recommend that you do the same; whether you are driven by the potential profit margin of a certain niche or just have a natural affinity towards it, become an expert in one or two specific areas so that you can find value the average thrift shop flipper may not be able to.

DON’T: Be Dishonest About Quality or Condition

Not many things are more frustrating during a thrift store arbitrage run than finding a product that looks brand-new, scanning it to see that it is worth a lot, and then taking another look and finding out that it’s actually damaged.

I once found a rare One Direction Zayn action figure that appeared to be brand-new in its package for $3.99 at Goodwill that was selling for $75 on Amazon. Upon further inspection, the box was torn. I was still able to sell it for $35 listing it as used and explaining the damage in the description, but it was a bummer not to have found it in better shape.

Imperfect items are a part of life when you shop in thrift stores. And as long as you are honest with your customers about the damage, chances are you may still be able to find a buyer out there. Perhaps the Zayn doll was for someone who planned on taking it out of the box to display it or play with it, so they wound up getting a great deal as the packaging didn’t matter to them anyway.

(Side note: Make sure you are not gated from in toys on Amazon before trying to resell toys like this.)

I maintained a near-perfect positive seller rating on both eBay and Amazon because I was always open and honest about the condition of the products I was selling. You should do the same. Trying to deceive customers for a quick buck could lead to negative feedback or even the loss of selling privileges on certain platforms if you are caught.

DO: Be Respectful to the Staff and Store

Watchful thrift store employee with arms crossed

If you make reselling from thrift stores a regular occurrence, you are going to wind up spending a lot of time in your local thrift shops. The vast majority of the time, employees at these thrift shops won’t mind you being a reseller or scanning things. In fact, I had plenty of great conversations with employees who were fascinated by it.

What thrift shop employees do mind is customers who leave huge messes or are disrespectful to staff or other customers. It always upset me when I saw other thrift store resellers scanning things and throwing them haphazardly on the shelf or on the ground when they didn’t get a hit. These people were forcing others to clean up their mess.

It only takes a few extra moments to put things neatly back on the shelves that you found them, and to be kind and polite to staff members when you are making your purchases. Doing so will ensure that you are always welcome in their store, and in some cases you may even build connections with employees who can point out intriguing items that have come in.

DON’T: Miss Out on Thrift Shop Sales

Believe it or not, thrift shops do sometimes have sales on their already heavily discounted products. For example, participating Goodwill locations have a weekly $1.99 Thursday color tag sale in which all items tagged in a certain color are only $1.99 on Thursdays. My local Salvation Army used to have a $1 CD deal every Friday.

There are occasions such as holiday weekends in which the entire store might be 50% off. Some thrift stores also have sales for different groups, such as a discount for students or seniors year-round or on certain days.

All you have to do is ask! Staff members will be happy to tell you about any ongoing or upcoming sales at their store. You can also follow your favorite thrift shops on social media to get notifications of when sales are taking place. These sales events are a great opportunity to find even bigger profit margins than usual.

DO: Think Beyond the Thrift Store with Retail Arbitrage

Clearance aisle in a Walmart store

Reselling from thrift stores is a great way to learn the ropes of selling products online. The cost of inventory is low and the chance to find products that can be sold for a nice profit is high. As you resell these items, you will get to develop an eye for what sells in your preferred niches, and learn all about the logistics of listing and shipping your finds on platforms like Amazon and eBay.

This may whet your appetite to expand your business. As much as I loved sourcing in thrift stores, I couldn’t have operated a full-time business on thrift store finds alone. Thrift store flipping is a great hobby that can generate some revenue, but you will need to scale up if you want to make more money in the long run. This is where retail arbitrage comes in.

You can generate income and build up your Amazon feedback and brand reputation using retail arbitrage. In addition to thrift stores, you can find deals on other secondhand items at garage sales, estate sales, and library bookstores. For brand-new items, you can search discount stores like ROSS and Marshall’s, or even the clearance sections at Walmart and Target. The same methods of identifying potential value and scanning products that work in thrift stores can apply to other sourcing options as well.

DON’T: Leave Products Unattended While Sourcing Them

Whether you are sourcing in a thrift store or giving retail arbitrage a try in a big box store, don’t make the rookie mistake I made early on of leaving products that you might be interested in unattended.

One of the thrift shops in my area had bad cellphone reception, so I batch-scanned a bunch of items offline and then went outside to check out my scans where better reception was available. The batch had one big winner that would net me a profit of around $60, but by the time I went back inside, someone else had grabbed it.

This was obviously an extreme circumstance in which I had to leave the store for technical reasons. But I also had a number of occasions early in my thrift store arbitrage journey where I scanned something and was on the fence about whether to buy it or not, so I put it back. I eventually decided I did want to buy it, but I was too late.

If you are on the fence about something, toss it in your cart and keep it with you until you decide. You obviously can’t hoard the entire store to yourself, but just be mindful of the fact that anything that isn’t in your possession is up for grabs.

DO: Consider Online Arbitrage as Well

Finding serious profit potential by comparing prices on a brand's website vs. Amazon with Tactical Arbitrage Quick Search.

If you are doing well enough reselling from thrift stores and retail arbitrage, you can expand your reselling business even further with online arbitrage. Using online arbitrage, you can take advantage of online marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist to find local sellers in your area looking to get rid of items that you may be able to resell for a nice profit.

You can also buy directly from big box store websites with the intention of reselling. Many online stores have online-only clearance sections that you can find great deals on. I was once able to find a toy selling for $29.99 on Amazon in the ToysRUs.com clearance section for $4.99 after Black Friday.

The issue with online arbitrage, however, is its scope. There are so many different retail sites online, and prices and stock are constantly being updated on all of them. To make matters worse, you’ll have a lot of competition as anyone with access to the internet can grab these deals the same way you can.

Fortunately, there are some great tools available that make the practice far more accessible. For example, Tactical Arbitrage specializes in sourcing through online arbitrage. With access to over 1,000 retail sites worldwide, Tactical Arbitrage can help you comb through the inventories of hundreds of websites to check if a product you are interested in can be purchased at a low enough price online to generate a profit on Amazon FBA.

And if you want to expand your sales into international marketplaces like Amazon Canada, SellerRunning is perfect for cross-border arbitrage. The possibilities are endless with the right tools at your disposal.

DON’T: Hesitate to Give Reselling from Thrift Stores a Try!

I got a bit ahead of myself at the end of this guide talking about retail arbitrage and online arbitrage, but that’s only because this is where my journey took me. I started out in 2015 with the idea to try going to garage sales and thrift stores to source products to flip. I loved it from the get-go, and it wasn’t long before I wanted to expand my sourcing adventures into new frontiers.

But as the famous saying goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Thrift store flipping can be anything from a part-time hobby that earns you a couple of bucks here and there to the catalyst for a massive reselling business across multiple countries.

All the tools that I’ve mentioned in this guide can help you reach whatever heights you aspire to reach in the world of reselling. But the first step is to stop overthinking it. Just grab a scouting app like ScoutIQ, head down to your local thrift store, and start looking around for your first big flip. Good luck!

Browse through and read our other blog posts that are data-driven insights with our very own proprietary data and learn more on Mother's Day trends and best practices, Easter sales, price elasticity of demand, Amazon FBA fee changes, Amazon product title optimization, winter seasonal products, Amazon end of year sales, Valentine’s Day trends and best Amazon fulfillment centers by location and throughput.

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