Online thrifting in the time of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every part of our lives, including how we shop for fashion. Our habits have been forced to change considerably as we have had to make the shift from in-person to online shopping. And thrifting has had to adapt too. For online thrifting tips in the time of COVID-19, read on!

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COVID’s challenges to retail are plentiful, affecting supply chains, labour forces, cash flow, marketing, and retailers’ ability to meet consumer needs. To illustrate the severity of the virus’s impact, according to Forbes, after just two weeks of lockdown, U.S. retail traffic was down more than 30% year-over-year. 

However, even with all of this hardship, people have once again proven adaptable. Retailers who did not have an e-commerce presence moved online to stay afloat. Omni-channel retailing was adopted like never before, with BOPIS (buy online pick up in store) and the offer of various delivery options (i.e. curbside pickup) becoming standard (online retail) operating procedures. The online shopping sector was growing long before March, 2020 but has since exploded thanks to social distancing restriction. 

At the same time, consumers recognized the need to support locally owned, small businesses who continue to face the risk of extinction. The resale market is growing 21x faster than the retail market. This insane growth can be attributed to heightened environmental awareness, and more upcycling and recycling of textiles. 

With that in mind, COVID-19 presented us with a unique opportunity to virtually engage with a section of the fashion industry that remained, until recently, predominantly brick-and-mortar-based. Namely, thrifted fashion. With online shopping rapidly expanding, thrifted fashion has adapted to the times and can now be sourced online. Check out the list below for amazing resources to shop for local and sustainable thrifted fashion with ease. 

The internet is truly a thrifter’s playground and has made it easier to browse local offerings while respecting COVID-19 guidelines. Becoming thrift-literate is a necessity, as shopping – both first and second-hand – moves online. On that note, here are my top online thrifting tips in the time of COVID-19 … 

Etiquette

1. Porch pick ups

Platforms and users are doing everything they can to be COVID-safe while ensuring that there are sustainable fashion sources. Porch pick ups and contactless trades are a great way to continue thrifting while being safe. All major platforms sent out notifications in March to encourage this COVID-safe practice and continue to have permanent banners. Essentially, it’s curbside pickup – we’re all used to that by now. It’s important for the thrifting community to respect public health guidelines and this is one of the best ways to do so. Personally, I bring a sanitizing wipe with me when I go to pick up my items. Then, I throw my new piece(s) right into the laundry when I get home. Going contactless is the best way to stay COVID-safe while also securing amazing finds. 

2. Be honest and flexible

Even though most of us are still working from home, we’ve all experienced, or been, a flakey buyer/seller (i.e. have been ghosted or just get too busy). Just communicate and be honest about when you can meet, and forthcoming if your plans change. 

3. Buy within your means

One of the most troubling things I see on these platforms, and a growing issue, are folks who buy clothes from thrift stores just to resell them at a higher price on Depop, Marketplace or Poshmark. Part of thrifting sustainably is ensuring there are options for everyone. Some people do not have the financial resources or means to shop higher-end consignment or second-hand, and we have to acknowledge that and form our habits while considering our privilege. Those who go to thrift stores just to resell clothes end up inadvertently encouraging others to go buy fast fashion to meet their needs. 

4. Be nice in your interactions

While you may be spending money on clothing, niceness is priceless. 

5. Be willing to travel

I am no stranger to hour long walks around my city to pick up plants, décor, clothing, books or other things I’ve found through online thrifting. Not having a license or car has not stopped me from being able to acquire said items. Look at it as a great way to get exercise, get out of the house, explore your city and connect with your community! 

Popular Shorthand

Shorthand in thrifting communities is plentiful and common and these are the phrases you’ll see the most (a more comprehensive list can be found here).

1. Bundle: 2+ items to trade or buy

2. PPU: Porch Pick Up

3. NWT: New with tags or BNWT: Brand new with tags

4. NWOT: New without tags

5. EUC: Excellent used condition

6. GUC: Good used condition

7. ISO: In search of 

8. LF: Looking for 

Some Popular Platforms

New platforms are popping up every day, so here are some staples in Canadian thrifting (all can be used abroad, but with varying popularity).  

Buy Nothing Project

The Buy Nothing Project originated in 2013 with the goal of creating a moneyless gifting system within communities. Instead of driving to the closest donation box or selling online, interested members within a certain location can join these Facebook groups for community-based redistribution of used goods. Buy Nothing is a great way to find free material goods that otherwise would have been thrown out or donated elsewhere. It’s a great way to (digitally) meet and connect with neighbours with similar interests and values! Of course, during COVID-19, PPE is a requirement and PPUs are preferred. A complete list of Buy Nothing communities can be found here. 

Bunz 

By far my favourite app, Bunz is a Canadian-based organization for trading items. The money-less economy is a growing trend in online thrifting communities and Bunz is a great example of how effective this method of acquiring second-hand goods can be. Bunz has over 1,000,000 users who upload items for trade and fill out an ISO, streamlining the thrifting process. You are able to search other user’s ISOs and items. If you do not have an item the other user may be interested in, Bunz has developed their own cryptocurrency called BTZ (pronounced “bits”) with daily opportunities to earn by watching sponsored ads or answering survey questions. This accessible app allows users to thrift, barter and trade within a designated geographical zone of their choosing. 

Instagram 

While the Instagram Shop is tailored for businesses and those with established followings, many curators have used Instagram in a different, more informal way. Reliant on daily drops and posts, Instagram consignment and thrift store accounts have sprung up in addition to the Shop page.

I live in Ottawa where the thrifting community has exploded – a trend that most cities are experiencing. To find them, search up your local consignment or pre-loved store, or use those key words in the search bar along with your city. A lot of these stores follow and support each other so by looking through who they follow you’re likely to find a lot more in your area. 

My first online consignment experience and find was @prelovedottawa. Once I followed them, more found me, like @paperbagprincessottawa and @downtownunderground613. The clothes are carefully curated and checked for quality, providing an opportunity to sustainably redistribute clothes through your local consignment system and network. These small stores are accommodating, patient and actively helping other stores, so once you find one, you’ve found a conduit to more. 

Facebook Marketplace

Facebook has actually done a lot to deliver accessible thrifting at our fingertips. Easy to filter through items and prices, this platform is home to good quality and sometimes free items. Timing is key, as it is the most widely used of the four platforms listed. One great tip I figured out in May when I moved apartments, is that if you look around when people are moving in and out of homes, you’ll likely find free furniture and other goods. Thus far, it is the most comprehensive resource, mostly due to its user base of 25.52 million users in Canada alone. I have had a lot of luck with clothes, furniture and plants here!

Depop & Poshmark

Both are newer to the game but incredibly successful. Poshmark is even filing for an IPO, meaning they’re successful enough to be publicly traded. There’s not a whole lot of information about how widely they’re used or how many users are registered in North America yet, so it’s difficult to gauge usership. Either way, you’re bound to have luck, especially if searching for name brands. Depop and Poshmark are pricier than the other platforms, which is their main differentiating factor. 


Individual choices make a big difference, so get moving, get literate, source safely and sustainably, and save money!

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