eBay Is Killing Our Thrift Stores

eBay is really ruining my secondhand shopping experience. This isn’t a new phenomena at all, either. eBay has been threatening the very life of my favorite thrift stores for as long as I can remember, but this time it’s really rubbing me the wrong way.

eBay is killing our thrift stores.
(image source)

It started when I was at a garage sale and found an unmarked item I was interested in. Small town garage sales are notorious for great deals so I was optimistic about the price. To my surprise they shot back with a number that I was not expecting. I asked if they would go lower and they replied, “Ha ha, no! They’re going for way more than that on eBay!”

The glaring problem was, I was not shopping on eBay. I was shopping for a mothball scented item in an old musty garage. The item in my hand was not worth that much to me but I complied because they’re hard to come across. (Sidenote: A few weeks later I found one for a nickel at a garage sale. They must not know about eBay!)

So here’s where my problem comes in.

These sellers took their advice from eBay and they’re not the only ones. Thrift stores have also taken notice of online retailers and adjusted their prices accordingly.

But eBay is not a value guide. It’s a community of people trying to sell their stuff. Some experts, some not.

While I believe it to be a great jumping off place to find a price, I do not believe that we should take it so seriously. Remember that bag of air from a Kanye West concert that (maybe) sold for $60,100? How can you take listings like that so seriously?

It’s also worth noting the condition of your item vs. what you see online. Sure one sold on eBay for an extravagant price but what was the condition? The garage sale item I mentioned earlier has been sitting in a baking soda bath for weeks trying to remove the smell. If you think I feel like a sucker, I do.

Now, I’m an online seller so I know I can be just as bad as anyone mentioned in this post, and I hate it.

I hate myself for seeing a price on eBay and competitively pricing my item on Etsy. In a perfect world, I’d love to sell my items at real life prices and not worry about the internet, but I can’t.

Unfortunately, shopping online is not the same as buying from secondhand stores.

In cyber space, someone has already done all the hard work of sourcing an awesome item, photographing it, taking measurements and tediously typing up descriptions. This is no easy task and you are paying for a service. So for some insight, that’s why shop owners can not offer you thrift store prices. They gotta pay the bills and sky rocketing selling and shipping fees.

This is not to discount the work that goes into running a thrift store but rather to illustrate how they have different purposes.

A thrift store provides a service to a community by accepting donations and in turn selling them to the public in an effort to raise funds for charities & causes.

By increasing prices to deter buyers from reselling on the internet and to compete with online prices, they’re going against their goals and turning off customers from shopping there in the future.

Should thrift stores really be concerned with what happens to their merchandise after it’s been sold?
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Final thoughts:

I’m glad to finally have these thoughts written down and out of my head. It’s been bothering me for quite awhile and I wish so bad I could have defended myself when thrown “ebay prices” at that garage sale all those months ago.

I hope this post gives you something new to think about. I would be thrilled if you shared this with others and help get the word out. Let’s hope more people are aware of this and aren’t taken advantage of by online vs. thrift store pricing.

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  • Lots of very salient points. I think the other thing is eBay listings are often incomplete – dimensions, fabrics, washing details etc can all be missed off. Physical item is right there for you to verify with your own eyes.

  • Eccentric Owl

    Oh man, how many times have I come across an item listed online from Etsy or Ebay and thought “Really?” I JUST happened across (and raged about to Skye) an Etsy shop whose owner priced a few items incredibly high because apparently they belonged to a famous model who lived on a famous street whose clothing were usually made by or for her by famous designers (but sometimes the tags were clipped, but the seller, a self-proclaimed fashion expert, was sure they were high-end vintage designer pieces) but not ONCE did this seller mention who that person was. With a famous name to back it, sure, maybe someone would think that was awesome if it happened to be a great model of the times. But very similar items to most of what she had posted could easily be found elsewhere on Etsy, still vintage, for hundreds less. Literally, hundreds.

    I even have issues about my own pricing from time to time. I tend to price items for less than what others list them for — sometimes a lot less –, simply because I’d rather post it for what I would realistically purchase an Etsy vintage item for than what Etsy/Ebay sellers sell comparable items for. Because very few of them are actually experts. I see mislabeled items ALL the time — people who assume a garment with care and content and “made in USA” tags are 50’s dresses (none of those things would be on a 50’s garment) and price accordingly when actually, it’s 80’s or even 90’s does 50’s and is only worth a fraction of their price. And then the fact that thrift stores are starting to adjust pricing to be more like online shopping? NO. Ugh. Especially considering much of what a thrift store offers is modern, worn, dirty, disorganized, and sometimes needs fixing.

    Wow. I had a lot more thoughts on that than I expected. Haha! But I agree; I haven’t seen a huge price raise in my thrift stores yet, but I’m sure eventually there will be. My Goodwill has a “Fashion Focus” section where everything is priced as though it were in an actual department store, which disgusts me. I once found a formal gown from a “designer” (aka JC Penney designers) priced at $99 in this section, despite it having snags in the chiffon, a ragged hem, and deoderant stains… yet in the non-fashion-focus-section at the same store I saw a perfect-condition wedding dress for $20. Made NO SENSE.

    And yeah, garage sales, honestly: my dad would be the “it goes for this much on ebay!” person, and I have to remind him that it’s for a garage sale and people won’t buy it if it’s online pricing. 😉 People get swayed by how much money it seems like they could make versus how much money the item is actually worth.

    END RANT. 😀

    • I love all of your comments on the eBay debate!!

      I’ve seen a lot of Etsy stores passing off ’90s garments as vintage and charging like $80. Like, seriously things that were sold at WALMART! I really don’t know where they get off. I hope, like you said, it’s just a bunch of uneducated sellers who don’t know what they’re looking at.

      To be honest, if there is a “vintage” item of clothing I’m looking for, I like to look on eBay first because I’ve found you can get things like a denim jacket for $10 compared to a $50 on Etsy. So sometimes there is an upside to eBay! haha

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me! 🙂

      • Desirae Kellenbarger

        I honestly think these people are just trying to jump on the vintage trend and make a quick buck. They don’t care about their sellers. Look how common it is for people to list things WITH NO DESCRIPTION, or worse they’ll say just look at the photos.

        • Yes, not taking the time to craft a decent listing is a big pet peeve of mine. It’s a shame more people don’t have pride in what they’re doing!

    • Desirae Kellenbarger

      Yes! Nothing gets me more than people wanting a millions dollars for an 80s item they think is actually 50s.

  • While I think you have a great point, I think the fault lies not only with eBay and other online stores – it’s those darn hipsters. The people that think that jacked-up eBay prices is “a great deal” because it’s cheaper than Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie or something.

    But yeah, eBay is stupid and I wish they’d stop jacking up the prices on my precious vintage Pyrex. No, I will not pay $15 for one bowl that every thrift store has when there are also 50 of them on eBay. Supply and demand, people!

    • I guess I should clarify that eBay AND hipsters will be the death of thrift stores. 😉

  • Emily

    Yeah, this is the worst. When I get that, I usually say with a bright smile, “Oh, well then you should try selling it on eBay!” I see some of this too at my local thrift store, but honestly, I can’t begrudge them being a little more savvy about the value of the items they have. Just because I can’t always sneak away with vintage for rock-bottom prices (so I can turn around and sell it for more money on Etsy) doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be entitled to get full value for money. That being said: Sometimes stuff is way overpriced for what it is because people don’t take into account condition, etc.

  • Great points. I’d add that not all thrift stores actually do the research to see what the item SOLD for on eBay. Some sellers ask outrageous prices on items, but if you do the advanced search you can see that for the previous month that items was not sold at that price even if 6 sellers asked for it. Those of us who have resold items purchased at thrift stores know that we cannot always replicate an auction on eBay because of many variables including condition. The thrift stores don’t seem to understand that.
    It does, as you point out, have the capacity to harm thrift stores who should be worried about serving those who can’t afford retail first. Unfortunately, they are overpricing more than just a few items where I live.
    And don’t get me started on the Target selling swine who wipe out the stores for designer collaboration items and then sell them on eBay. I love that some of them are stuck with items 5 years later that they can’t sell because of their overpriced greed. (Do a Missoni for Target search for an example) I would understand making a bit of a profit for their work, and I’ve purchased from those who do that, but tripling-quadrupling prices is disgusting. Five years ago I loved to thrift, but it’s not all the fun it once was.

    • Desirae Kellenbarger

      I completely agree with both this blog post and your comment. I was going to also talk about how people say, “That’s what it’s going for on Ebay.” But, they are just looking at what people are trying to sell their items for. I’m tired of prices going up up up, not only online but at the thrift stores.

  • Desirae Kellenbarger

    I buy and sell online. But, I also buy at thrift stores, which I’ve doing doing since I was a little girl. I keep my prices low, but I’ve also spend time looking for, measuring, and photographing an item. A lot of buyers seem to think that they should be entitled to have it for thrift store or garage sale prices because they have to pay for shipping. This is another huge pet peeve of mine.

  • Diana Chai

    I so agree. Thrift stores in my country pile merchandise, some sodden in stains, mothball dust and dead insects. I rummage through rubbish spending hours to find that one gem so the person buying online doesn’t have to. I wash, remove stains where possible and sometimes even iron the clothes so they are in perfect condition before I sell them. This is a service. I am going where a lot of people won’t be caught dead and spending both time and effort to make the item even remotely palatable to hard-to-please internet shoppers. It will cost more than a thrift store.