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Thrifting and buying second-hand are great ways to save money while reducing the carbon footprint of your wardrobe. With the pandemic making in-person shopping a little risky, though, many thrifters — and thrift stores — have been moving their efforts online in order to enjoy thrifting while also avoiding the coronavirus.

There are a number of advantages to thrift shopping online. Erica Johnson from Retail Therapy Consignment Boutique in Waterville said that the cost of their thrifted clothes are “65 percent less than retail.” Besides that, in their store at least, online shoppers get “first dibs.”

“We put everything online first,” Johnson said. “People will claim four or five items and then they’ll run in, pay for it and leave. It’s all set when they come in. They don’t have to spend time going around the store and looking for things.”

There can be some limitations to online thrifting, though.

“[In person] you can try an item on for fit, touch the material, see if there are any defects,” said MJ Spurr, co-owner of Forget Me Nots consignment shop in Falmouth. “We try very hard not to put anything with any kind of defect online, but I’m not sure all online thrift stores would be so careful.”

Regardless, thrift store shopping online is a bit different than other shopping. Here are some tips to get the most out of the experience.

Try different websites

There are a number of large national or even international websites for online thrift shopping, including thredUp, Poshmark, The RealReal and Depop. You can also check out reselling or auction sites like eBay or ShopGoodwill, or small business platforms like Etsy, which often have clothing and other thrifted goods.

Each website has their own pros and cons — Poshmark is more catered to luxury brands, for example, while thredUp has the largest selection — so it is worth trying a bunch of them to see what works for you.

Even sellers have their favorites.

“I like Poshmark because you can add a lot of pictures,” Johnson said. “When you’re typing in the price of what you’re selling it for after shipping and Poshmark fees, it’ll tell you what you earned. It’s fun.”

Check Facebook and other social media platforms

Thrift stores are increasingly turning to social media to sell these days. For example, when the pandemic started, Retail Therapy Consignment Boutique started selling on Facebook Marketplace.

“We decided to make a group and post all our new arrivals on there,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of regulars that have been staying home so instead of coming in to just browse, they were able to see what came out. It’s pretty busy. We do a lot of running and checking messages and putting things out back for people every day.”

Angela Hallee, also from Retail Therapy Consignment Boutique, said that while other thrift stores might not use Facebook Marketplace, they may still post items on their Facebook pages, so it is worth logging on to check.

Instagram is also a great platform for thrift stores and consignment shops to sell items.

“We put items for sale on these platforms all the time that might not make it to the website,” Spurr said.

Seek local vendors

Even if they are not open for in-person shopping, some of your favorite local thrift stores and consignment shops might have an online store.

Forget-Me-Nots opened an online store in May 2020, when the pandemic made in-person shopping difficult.

“We have always resisted the idea of an online shop, as we have been fairly successful in our brick and mortar store, [but] the pandemic changed all that,” Spurr said.

Still, the primary advantage to shopping locally, aside from getting first dibs on great items that other online shoppers might not even think to look for, is that you can save money.

“[When we sell] on Poshmark, the price goes up a little bit because we have to cover shipping and the fees that Poshmark takes from us,” Johnson said. “Coming local, they’re going to pay less.”

You are also supporting local businesses, which have been hard-hit during the pandemic.

“Somebody from California can order something from us and it’s still helping out small businesses,” Johnson said. “It’s supporting small businesses [that are] trying to make it right now.”

Another advantage from purchasing items online at a local store is that if you are interested in an item, you can reach out to the store and ask additional questions — whether the piece runs small, for example, or what the color of the handbag looks like in person.

“Most stores would be happy to answer any questions or send additional photos if a customer asks,” Spurr said. “If you can’t visit and are looking for something fairly specific, give a call or email and ask if they have something similar in stock in your size or if it’s something they get in on a regular basis, then follow up.”

Know the return policy

As with online shopping anywhere, the return policy will vary depending on the store and platform. Retail Therapy Consignment Boutique, for example, holds items for 24 hours and allows customers to come in and try it on before they pick up and pay for it. Aside from that, though, they do not offer returns.

Knowing the specifics of a store’s return policy is especially important when you are thrift shopping online. Spurr said to keep an eye out for whether or not you need to pay for shipping on returns as well.

Do research

If you think you have found something good, it may still be worth it to do your research on the product to make sure you are paying a reasonable price for the second-hand item.

“If you find something you like, say it’s a Coach handbag, go to the Coach website and research it to make sure it’s something you like and then go to the thrift site,” Johnson said. “You can also look at other thrift sites to make sure you’re getting a good deal.”

The most important tip about online thrift shopping is to have fun with it. Online thrift shopping opens up a world of possibilities for your wardrobe, all while stemming the environmental cost of fast fashion and the cost to your bank account.