If you consistently receive compliments on your outfits, score the best deals or find rare gems at the flea market, you may have a knack for shopping that you can turn into a profitable online thrift store. Learn how to start an online thrift store in 10 easy steps, whether you want to create a thriving boutique business or just purge your closet.
Why should you start an online thrift store?
While it’s expensive to open a traditional brick-and-mortar thrift store, online thrift stores have low upfront costs that make the dream accessible to first-time business owners. Opening one can be a great way to clean out your overflowing collection, earn passive income or even build a booming retail business.
The online format means you’re not limited to bringing your clothes to a thrift or consignment store or generating the capital to rent retail space in a busy neighborhood. You can operate an online thrift store from anywhere in the world and open a shop on a limited budget. As a result, people use online thrift stores for various purposes, from thinning out their flea market finds to flipping refurbished furniture. Work at it hard enough, and you may be able to create an online retail empire.
How to start an online thrift store in 10 steps
If you’ve got one item for sale and a social media account, you can start today. But it does take a bit more effort to build up a lasting online thrift store business. Follow these steps to get started.
1. Determine your thrift store niche
To start an online thrift store, you must first determine your business niche. After all, an online store that sells vintage sunglasses and rare books could confuse customers.
Decide what you want to sell and what kind of buyers you want to attract. You could sell anything you’re willing to ship — repurposed fashion items, home goods, refurbished furniture, used electronics or books. Pick a niche you are passionate about that works with your goals but can also be predictably re-stocked with “new” merchandise.
2. Design your branding
You need to create a brand to set yourself apart from other online thrift stores. Like major retail companies, your online thrift store should carry a look and feel that resonates with your audience.
Team up with a creative friend or use an online service to generate a simple logo and choose brand colors that evoke the particular feeling you want your customers to experience. Purchases are emotional decisions for buyers, so think about how you can create a memorable online atmosphere for them to enjoy.
3. Create a business plan and budget
A financially savvy business plan is necessary to keep your online thrift store on track. Early on, you’ll need to determine a budget for purchasing items and figure out the appropriate markup on merchandise to cover expenses and generate revenue.
Many resale retailers agree that up to a 300% markup is a good general rule, although some online thrift stores will find a sweet spot above or below this percentage.1 For example, if you purchase a vintage dress for $30, you should aim to sell it for $90 on your online thrift store. If you don’t think you can bring in that price, you may want to consider other items or adjust your pricing structure.
Financial planning is also the time to decide whether you want to become an online consignment store. Consignment stores sell other people’s merchandise in addition to items you’ve acquired on your own. The consignment approach differs from a traditional thrift shop in that the payment model for consignors is typically a 60/40 split, where you keep 40% of the profit on consigned items and give 60% to the consignor.2
4. Collect items to sell
Naturally, you can’t have an online thrift store without items to sell. Online thrift store owners often start by selling their own items. For example, they may open an online shop or host a virtual garage sale to clear out their closet.
More advanced resellers spend their days hitting the circuit to find items for resale. You could find things to sell at garage sales, flea markets and brick-and-mortar thrift stores. In some cases, you may want to put in extra work refurbishing the item to yield a higher price.
5. Get the necessary tools
Once you have items to list on your online thrift store, you must procure the required business tools to run your operation. First, you will need a computer and sales software to launch and operate your online store. You may want to build your own e-commerce website or utilize other existing sales platforms.
Next, you will need to collect storage and shipping containers for housing and mailing your items. Don’t forget to invest in a quality camera and studio set up with the proper lighting to photograph your inventory and create enticing listings.
6. Photograph your items
A picture is worth a thousand words, and a good one could generate thousands of dollars for your online thrift store business. To run a successful online shop, you need to capture professional-looking photos that showcase what you’re selling. Dark and grainy pictures may make your item look dingy, causing potential buyers to pass on it.
Good lighting and staging are important, and if you sell clothing items, consider using human models. Similarly, construct simple vignettes to showcase home accessories. Showing how to style your items will allow buyers to imagine how they can use them, leading to more purchases.
7. Decide where to launch your online thrift store
The internet is already a crowded marketplace, so you need to figure out the best way of getting your business online. You could build a custom e-commerce website, creating a design that functions around your needs. However, creating a website from scratch can be intimidating and time-consuming.
Existing platforms allow you to make an account and easily set up your online shop, piggybacking off of their better-established names. Consider sites like Poshmark, Etsy, Facebook Marketplace, Instagram Shopping and eBay. Some are better suited to specific items and goals, such as clothing-only or more high-end items, so choose the one that makes the most sense for your niche.
8. Set up your business basics
Once you have prepared your online storefront, work out a backend organization system to keep things running smoothly. You will want to set up a business bank account, inventory tracking system, shipping spreadsheets, customer feedback forms and accounting books. Create an organization system to ensure your business runs smoothly before making your first sale.
9. Market your online thrift store
When your business goes live, do some good old-fashioned marketing to attract customers. Social media is a great place to start, especially since you can use platforms like Instagram and Facebook to make sales. Post your items to generate interest and engage with future customers. Interact with other sellers, and find out if there are events or special groups devoted to your particular business niche.
10. Manage your business
Once you get your online thrift store up and running, you’ll need to put in the work to keep it moving. This will be easy in the first stages. But when you begin getting regular customers and daily orders, it can involve many different duties and quickly become an overwhelming experience without the right management system.
Try to automate as many processes as possible and create systems for storing inventory, shipping orders and tracking sales. Early strategizing will allow you to expand your online thrift store and grow. It will also give you time to hone your thrifting strategy. For example, if you know the day your local Goodwill has the freshest inventory, you can be sure to set your weekly shopping budget accordingly.
How much can online thrift stores make?
Online thrift stores can generate a wide range of income depending on what you sell, your markup and how much work you put into it. Online resellers sometimes make a few hundred dollars per month to supplement their 9-to-5 income.
Those who’ve built up their business can go full-time, earning upward of $5,000 per month from their online thrift stores.3 For example, Sophia Amoruso, founder of Nasty Gal, transitioned from selling her used clothes on eBay to running a multimillion-dollar online retail company.4
How much does it cost to start an online thrift store?
While opening a brick-and-mortar retail store is prohibitively costly for most, starting an online thrift store business is relatively inexpensive. Start-up costs will vary depending on the fee structure of the platforms you use to sell, whether you have equipment already or need to purchase it, and your initial inventory size. Is your closet full of fashion ready to hit the market, or do you need to spend some quality weekend time hitting up estate sales?
In most cases, online thrift store owners can expect to launch their business with about $500 to $3,000 worth of start-up fees and supplies.5
The ultimate business accessory
As a future online thrift store owner, chances are you know a thing or two about style. Just as you collect the perfect accessories to tie an outfit together, you also need to gather all the right assets before launching a business. Ecommerce Business Insurance from Thimble might be the final touch you need to bring your professional look together.
E-commerce insurance (also known as online retail business insurance) is one way to protect your growing business against financial risks. To add business insurance to your cart, simply download the Thimble mobile app or click “get a quote,” answer a few questions and get your policy. With Thimble, protection is just a click away.
- Chron. What is a Normal Markup Percentage?
- CraftProfessional.com. What is a Fair Consignment Percentage?
- Business Insider. This 23-year-old gave up a corporate job to make $5,000 a month reselling thrift store clothes through an app.
- NastyGal. About Us.
- MyWorkFromHomeMoney. 5 Rules to Start a Thrift Store Online.