How to Get the Best Deals at Thrift Stores

thrift store

I have to admit that I really enjoy looking for treasure in what other people consider junk. I love to rummage around places looking for weird and unusual items, whether it be at flea markets, garage sales or thrift stores. I spent several years making a living doing this on eBay and although I no longer do it today, I still get the itch to hunt for those great deals I know are sitting there waiting to be picked up.

I have noticed lately that it has been getting more and more difficult to score good deals at thrift stores than in the past. Part of it might be due to the hit song by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (Thrift Shop) which has introduced thrift shopping to a whole new generation of people (warning, NSFW language).

While it might be a bit more difficult to score great deals today than a few years ago, that doesn’t mean that the great deals no longer exist. They’re there if you know how to find them. I find that there is a sort of art to scoring great deals while thrift shopping. Here are 10 strategies I use to get the best deals at thrift stores:

Neighborhood Counts

When you go to a thrift shop, one of the biggest mistakes that many people make when looking for great deals is that they go to the closest shop to them. What you really want to do is go to the store which is located nearest those who have the highest income in your area. The reason for this is simple. Those people who donate with higher incomes often donate more expensive items and clothes. While these may eventually make their way to the other stores in the area (stores located in higher income areas often get more donations than they can use and send surplus to other stores that don’t get as many donations, but it is usually items that haven’t been selling on their store, not new items that have just arrived), you have the best chance of scoring a really good deal at the thrift shops located in higher income areas.

Know the Stock Day

Unlike regular stores which constantly restock items on their shelves, thrift stores often only restock a couple of days a week, with one day usually being the main restock day. Knowing this day and getting their early on it gives you the opportunity to look at the newest items on display before anyone else increasing your chances of finding a great deal than if the item had been on the floor for a few days. You can simply ask one of the workers and they will almost always be willing to tell you their restocking schedule.

Return Regularly

If you’re hoping to get good deals, you have to go to the thrift shops on a regular basis. You never know when something great is going to come in. Sometimes great deals arrive weekly while other times nothing good seems to come in for months. Since they don’t carry standard merchandise like regular stores, but simply sell whatever is brought in, it’s important to go consistently if you are to score the best deals. The more consistent you are in going on a regular basis, the better chance you have of being there when that great deal is put out on the floor.

Make Friends with Staff

One of the best ways to score deals at thrift shops is to become friends with the staff. This usually isn’t difficult at all if you are a regular customer. if you tend to buy similar items on a consistent basis, they’ll learn what you are looking for and often let you know when new things that fit your past shopping habits arrive without you even asking. But don’t assume they will. Politely ask them to be on the lookout for your most coveted items and they may even put them to the side for you when they come in to give you first shot at them.

Shop End of Year and Spring

Probably tow of the best times to shop thrift stores for great deal is toward the end of the year and during the spring. In the spring, people are doing their spring cleanings (and many people are getting ready to move) which tends to send more items than usual to the thrift stores. At the end of the year, many people get rid of all the stuff they no longer need to take the deduction on their taxes. In fact, the thrift stores often get so many new donations toward the end of the year that they can’t get all the new stuff they received out until January or February of the next year, extending the quality shopping season. If you live in a college town, a good time to go is when students start packing up for the summer.

New Item Rack

While these don’t exist in all thrift stores, many have a “new items” rack where the latest items to be brought into the store are placed. if a store has an area like this, it’s the best place to start since not nearly as many people have seen what’s there and the likelihood that a great find has been found by another isn’t as likely. If you are visiting a thrift shop for the first time, ask if they have a new item area because often they aren’t marked well.

To Be Displayed Pile

Another excellent place to look is the “to be displayed” pile. You need to be a little more careful with this pile as it isn’t one that you should officially be looking through, but it’s just for that reason that it makes it an excellent place to score great deals. What many thrift shops will do is make a pile of the latest items that need to be placed on the floor in an area in the store near the storage room. These are items that need to be placed on the floor when the staff has time. They sometime create this pile to make it easier for staff to place it on the floor during not as busy times so they don’t have to go back and forth into the store-room. if you can find this pile, you will likely be the first person to go through it.

Rerack Pile

If you are searching for great deals on clothes, one area that many people forget to look is the recently tried on pile of clothes. The reason that this is a good place to score a great deal is because someone thought the piece of clothing was quality enough to try on. That’s a good indication that it was something that they thought had value. Why didn’t they buy it? Maybe the only issue was that it didn’t fit right. Most people walk by this pile without a second glance, but it’s a place where you can find some high quality clothes that others have already found in the shop.

Phone Research

The fact is that when you are looking for deals in thrift shops, you are going to come across things that are beyond your scope of knowledge, and I’ve seen a number of people use their phones as a way to confirm or dismiss whether something they just spied was a wonderful deal. In fact, you can usually tell who in the thrift shop are resellers looking for deals that they can resell at a profit somewhere else by the way that they use their phone to check on things they find while they wander through the thrift store. If you are unsure if something is worth it, but have a suspicion that it might be a great deal, doing a quick search on your phone can be a quick and easy way to find out.

Always Ask for a Discount

Some shops are much more willing to entertain giving discounts than others, but it never hurts to ask. Since most of the merchandise for sale is used, it’s usually possible to find something that differentiates it from being brand new. This differentiation may not be an issue to you at all, but it gives you the opportunity to bargain for a better price by pointing it out. The key to be successful with this strategy is to be kind and friendly when doing this rather than pushy and demanding. Saying, “I really love this item, but I noticed that it unfortunately has a small mark on the side. Would it be possible to get a few dollars off?” gives you a much more likely chance of getting a price reduction than, “Look, there is a mark on the side of this. It’s not worth what you marked it at. I want a discount!”

Do you have any special strategies when you go looking for stuff at thrift shops?

(Photo courtesy of Christopher Sessums)

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7 Responses to How to Get the Best Deals at Thrift Stores

  1. These are really useful tips! I did a lot of thrift and resale shopping when I was in college, but have drifted away from it as I got older because I wasn’t finding things I liked in the stores. Apparently I was shopping in the less-ritzy part of town. 😀

  2. gregory says:

    I have found that the pricing at Thrift Shops has increased where they are no longer the deals that they used to be. I am able to find things much cheaper at garage sales and online.

  3. Gailete says:

    Thankfully our town’s thrift shop, that gets everyone’s cast offs whether rich or poor, still maintains low prices and frequent sales. The proceeds of what they make stays in our town to help those in need. I pop in when I can and have bought great amounts of craft supplies, items to resell in my store, clothes for me. After years of never finding my size in the store, someone (or multiple some ones) came along and donated clothes in my size. While I can make skirts pretty easily, tops are a bit harder so finding a decent supply of tops has been great! Our shop is only open three days a week for 4 hours a day, so you have to get there when the getting is good. Comparing prices to the Salvation Army store about 20 miles away, the prices are about 25% of the SA prices. We also have frequent sales depending on what they need to move out for the coming season. Love my store. It is the only shopping that I can tolerate physically as well. :)

  4. Jo says:

    Even thrift stores have to “raise” their prices to stay afloat. Replacing fixtures, perhaps donating part of their sales to charity, a local shelter, etc., accounts for this action.

    I know that the Salvation Army and Goodwill stores put some of their proceeds towards those in need after tornado and hurricane incidences.

    Just some thoughts…

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  6. Our Thrift Store in Craig Colorado. Community Budget Center has a senior discount on clothing and other specials throughout the month. 50% off on all items once a month. Other specials, too. Some of our items are brand new.

    All proceeds return to the community to assist those in need; medical, rent assistance, utilities, etc.

  7. Emily says:

    Loved this post. I’m a die hard thrift shopper and garage saler, and yet there’s always room for improvement. It’s kind of like a sport to me, if that makes sense.

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