As consumers clean out their closets in the New Year--and perhaps try to determine what to do with ill-fitting clothing given by well-intentioned relatives--they can look to a growing number of online consignment shops that cater to fashion niches and offer more convenience than traditional brick-and-mortar consignment stores.
For instance, RodeoDriveResale.com focuses on luxury designers like Marc Jacobs, Fendi, and Prada, while the newly launched Tradesy.com offers a mix of mid-market and high-end brands such as Zara, Kate Spade, and Michael Kors. StellaPlusJack.com specializes in children's clothing and accessory brands like Mini Boden and Ralph Lauren. And some websites, including AntoinesConsignment.com, focus on men's clothing and accessories.
Many of these sites offer prepaid mailing labels for consigners. "You don't actually have to get in your car and take the things to a particular place," points out Montgomery, Ala.-based thrift style expert LaCheryl Cillie. "You can hold them until they sell and you have to ship them."
Online consignment sites also have a potentially broader reach than physical stores. "You get a global market, so your market is much wider," says Cillie. "You don't have to worry about whether your items will sell to a regional or local market." For instance, if your area suffers from high unemployment, high-end items might languish on the rack.
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Because physical stores have limited space and owners want to keep inventory fresh, they may only offer to sell your items for a month or two before you're expected to pick them up. Meanwhile, online consignment shops do not have the same space constraints, although they may not list your items online indefinitely. Stella + Jack, for instance, lists children's clothing for at least 45 days or up to two seasons.
As with brick-and-mortar shops, the percentage of the payout offered by online consignment shops runs the gamut. "There's no governing body that governs consignment pricing, so it varies widely between consigners online and offline," says Grant Harris, owner and chief style consultant at Image Granted, a Washington, D.C.-based image consulting company for men. Some online consignment shops offer an even split between the shop and the consigner (Tradesy's 9 percent commission was the lowest we found), while others factor in the type of item or whether the consigner chooses cash or credit.
Pay cycles for online shops also vary, although Cillie says consigners may have to wait longer for a check from a brick-and-mortar consignment shop. "With some of the online sites, as soon as they get paid, you're paid right away," she explains. "With the brick-and-mortar stores, you may have to wait until the end of the month. They may not [process consigners' payments] every single day because it's not as easy and efficient for them to do it every day." Some sites pay consigners through PayPal, which usually processes faster than a check.
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However, the lack of face-to-face interaction is a potential downside to consigning online. With a local consignment shop, "you obviously have the opportunity to take your items into the store and work with the shop owner to price your items or have that personal interaction," says Harris. There's typically less wiggle room for negotiating the sales price with an online consignment site.
Additionally, while shopping online, you could miss details in the item's condition, color, or texture that would be more apparent in person. "I like being able to see the garments and try things on," says Harris, adding that he rarely buys suits online because a suit's fit is so important. "Accessories are good, but tailored items are kind of hit or miss."
With so many online consignment shops popping up, how do you know which one to use?
Since many online consignment shops have a narrower focus than traditional consignment shops, make sure your item matches the site's style. For example, the shop may specialize in vintage apparel, high-end handbags, or traditional menswear. "Many online consignment shops only take certain items," says Harris. "They have very specific rules, so if you don't know the rules, your item is not going to sell."
Harris also recommends purchasing something from the site first to test the waters and see if the transaction runs smoothly (or, if not, find out if customer service resolves the issue quickly). "As Warren Buffet said, 'Never invest in [a business] you don't understand," Harris says. "I only consign with places where I would buy products. If I don't wear vintage clothing, I'm not going to consign my items there, because my items are not going to sell."
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