Today's consignment shop: hip and online
But the same Web tools that help stores thrive also let individuals compete by selling clothes directly. So consignment shops are innovating.
Small, fringe, and dowdy, consignment stores used to attract shoppers who wanted to be hip and were willing to reach beyond the mainstream to get a good deal. No longer.Skip to next paragraph
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Step into Designer Resale, an upscale consignment shop in New York City, and you can see the difference. Labels from trendy Henri Bendel, Saks, and Bergdorf Goodman can be found prominently displayed. The store itself, more than 3,000 square feet spanning five storefronts on East 81st Street, draws customers who come here from as far away as California.
"Technology has come such a long way since our opening 21 years ago," says proprietor Myrna Skoller. "We are now able to post new products on our website." Designer Resale also sends e-mails to customers and consignors and reaches out via Twitter and Facebook. Other consignment stores sell most – or even all – of their goods online.
The arrival of the Internet has been the biggest driver in the transformation of the consignment store. Instead of serving a local market with clothes and accessories acquired locally, the 21st-century shop sells online nationally with items that come from consignors from just about anywhere.
The trend toward "gently used" – spurred perhaps by postrecession frugality – is so strong that stores can now even specialize in, say, evening wear or men's upscale clothing. Because shoppers and even consignors – the people supplying their used clothing for sale – can interact online, the process is far easier and more inviting.
The result is that consignment shops are beginning to experiment with new kinds of promotions that mimic the come-ons from regular retailers. For example, this month Christabelle's Closet, an online consignment boutique based in New York, is debuting a rewards program for loyal shoppers that includes a free gift with each purchase as well as discount coupons every other month. Consignors also have a loyalty incentive: The more they sell to Christabelle's, the bigger the share of the profit they get from each sale. (Typically, consignors are paid a share of the price their item sells for.)
"We do our best to earn the love and respect of our members – both shoppers and consignors," says Christina Carathanassis, who launched the consignment store in 2004. "This sliding scale not only benefits the consignor with extra income, but also offers motivation to actually clean out their closets and purge items that are no longer needed."
Linda's Stuff, the largest consignment store on eBay, is borrowing another page from the retailers' playbook. The Horsham, Pa., store, which specializes in designer clothing and accessories, offers free pickup on items to be consigned no matter where they're located in the United States. The store also has a referral program: $15 for each friend shoppers refer. The retailer also offers free shipping on select merchandise.