Guide to Types of Secondhand Shopping

“Thrifting” is a rather broad term we use here at Destination Thrift.  Generally, we mean purchasing goods from a secondhand source (though sometimes we use the word “thrifty” to denote savvy shopping methods that don’t necessarily involve secondhand.)  There are a few different types of secondhand sources.  Here’s the rundown:

Thrift Stores

This lovely beast is known by several names: thrift store/shop, junk shop, re-sale shop, charity shop (UK), op/opportunity shop (Australia) or sometimes just “the thrift.” Stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army, as well as local thrift stores run by nonprofit / charitable organizations or entreprenuers, are all included under this umbrella of secondhand shopping.  These stores may be operated by paid staff or volunteer workers.  Merchandise is received primarily by donation and donors do not receive any monetary benefit. Since merchandise is not usually curated (although the real junk is tossed in the trash by volunteers or staff), variety is high — so expect a lot of searching on your part. However, prices are low. You truly never know what you will find at the thrift store!
Price: $$$
Time Investment: HIGH

Consignment Stores

Consignment stores are usually considered more “upscale” than a typical thrift store. Merchandise is received by consignors, who receive a portion of the selling price if the item is sold. If the item remains on the floor unsold, the consignor may pick it up at a specific date or allow it to be donated to charity. Due to the high-quality standards of most consignment stores, merchandise is better curated than a thrift store. They usually carry more current styles or “the good brands.” Expect higher prices (though still lower than brand-new) but an easier search for current fashions.
Price: $$$$$
Time Investment: LOW

Vintage Stores

Vintage stores or boutiques have a lot in common with consignment stores, as people often bring in vintage items to sell to the vintage shop owner or to be consigned. Merchandise is sourced through various outlets like pickers, estate sales, and bulk lots through specialty warehouses. Vintage stores are carefully curated with high-quality vintage and unique or one-of-a-kind pieces. Expect higher prices but an easier search for vintage goodies.
Price: $$$$$
Time Investment: LOW

Garage Sales

Garage sales, yard sales, lawn, moving, junk, tag, rummage, basement, attic, sales – these terms all refer to seasonal neighborhood sales, wherein people set up shop on their own property. It is people-to-people shopping! Merchandise comes from the seller’s homes and is usually priced to move. Expect rock-bottom prices (even lower than thrift stores), but the same or greater amount of searching as thrift stores (perhaps more searching due to traveling from sale to sale, rather than one shop.)

Price: $
Time Investment: HIGH


Online sites sell secondhand clothes and wares to consumers in the US and abroad, and may be the only option for secondhand shopping in some parts of the country or world. Well-known sites include eBay and Craigslist run the gamut, while sites like Etsy and Market Publique are tailored to a more vintage-oriented customer. Merchandise may be acquired through several means, including the seller’s own collection or picked from other secondhand sources. Online prices tend to be higher than what you find in stores, but there are some lowball surprises every now and then. Pay close attention to the measurements and description of condition, since you must rely on the seller to communicate these details. If you have questions, ask the seller; in any case, make sure you understand the seller’s return policy. Some sellers’ online store may be carefully curated toward a specific customer, but others include a myriad of merchandise. Expect a lot of searching and a moderate-to-high cost.
Price: $$$$$
Time Investment: HIGH

Author’s note:  these next three types are stores that I am not personally very familiar with.  I hope to update this blog soon with better information after I gain more experience in these secondhand avenues.

Flea Market

A flea market is a type of bazaar, and may be known as car boot (UK), jumble, bring & buy sales, and trash & treasure markets (Australia).  Sellers (also called vendors) rent booths or spaces to set up shop for a day, weekend, or sometimes a longer (semi-permanent) time period.  Typically, flea markets take place in an outside venue, but can sometimes be found as a type of indoor market as well.  They are similar to garage sales but larger in scope.  I would estimate the amount of searching is comparable to that of a thrift store but perhaps less than garage sales – lots to look through, but grouped in one location.

Estate Sales

Estate sales are a sale or auction of a person’s household possessions, typically as a result of death but sometimes in case of moving where the owners cannot take all of their possessions, like a smaller house or a nursing home.  These type of sales are usually facilitated by a third-party, like a broker or liquidator who takes a percentage of the profits.  Businesses that focus on estate sales may consistently price merchandise or have specialist knowledge of antique, vintage, or collectible items.  They are distinguished from garage or yard sales, mostly due to higher prices and implying that many more household contents are for sale than at a garage sale.

Pawn Shops

Pawn shops offer loans to people in exchange for collateral goods, and if the loan is not paid back within a certain amount of contracted time, the collateral is sold in a pawn shops.  Pawns also take items that are sold directly by a customer, no loan involved.  These shops typically have a seedy reputation, since criminals may attempt to pawn a stolen item.  Higher price items like jewelry, musical instruments, and electronics may be found in pawn shops for a reasonable deal.  Pawnbrokers typically check for authenticity on valuables.  Prices are based on the pawnbroker’s discretion.  Here’s an interesting tidbit from Wikipedia on pawn shop merchandise:

Pawnshops have to be careful to manage how many new items they accept as pawns: either too little inventory or too much is bad. A pawnshop might have too little inventory if, for example, it mostly buys jewels and gold that it resells or smelts—or perhaps the pawnshop owner quickly sells most items through specialty shops (e.g., musical instruments to music stores, stereos to used hi-fi audio stores, etc.). In this case, the pawnshop is less interesting to customers, because it is mostly empty.  On the other extreme, a pawnshop with a huge inventory has several disadvantages. If the store is crammed with used athletic gear, old stereos, and old tools, the store owner must spend time and money shelving and sorting items, displaying them on different stands or in glass cases, and monitoring customers to prevent shoplifting. If there are too many low-value, poor quality items, such as old toasters, scratched-up 20 year-old TVs, and worn-out sports gear piled into cardboard boxes, the store may begin to look more like a rummage sale or flea market…. The better option lies in the middle: a store with a moderate amount of good quality, brand-name items arranged neatly in the display windows attracts passersby, who are more likely to enter and shop. If items are attractively laid out in display cases and shelves, the pawnshop looks more professional and reputable. Read more on Wikipedia – Pawn Shop.

My advice is to know something about the valuable you want to find, or take along a friend who knows something.  I bought my first guitar at a pawn shop, and even though it was a great starter instrument, I wish I had taken along a friend who knew more about guitars than I did at the time.  Make sure you don’t get ripped off by a too-high price:  study up on the subject, shop around, and take an expert with you.

That’s it!

Did I miss anything?  What types of secondhand venues do you visit most often?

One Response to “Guide to Types of Secondhand Shopping”
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  1. […] To learn more about the difference between consignment stores and thrift shops, read my article on Types of Secondhand Stores. […]

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