The “ethics” of reselling is a perennial hot-button issue online. If you’ve found yourself questioning how to navigate this as a seller, here are three ways to offer accessible pricing — but only if it works for your business
Who are thrift stores for?
This question is at the heart of a popular narrative about resellers as opportunists looking to get rich off the goodness of other people’s donations, and taking treasures away from those who would not otherwise be able to afford them. It’s also at the heart of an Instagram reel I came across recently, posted by @thrifting:
“People think thrifting is for needy people, but this lady is carrying a Goyard bag,” the narrator of an Instagram reel says in a judgmental tone while a camera pans towards the back of a person in a thrift store, dressed casually, carrying what looks to be a bright blue tote by the French designer Goyard.
The video seems like its baiting controversy, but the resulting comments offer a good snapshot of peoples’ opinions on reselling.
One commenter, @hahahahailey56, explained why the only people she doesn’t like thrifting are resellers: “Why? Takes away from good finds for people who would generally not be able to get it normally. Plus its [sic] super fun when you find something like that.”
This is not a new accusation for vintage resellers, many of whom do source at least a portion of their inventory from thrift shops, garage sales, estate sales, etc.
Because vintage sellers place higher prices on items that people can come across for much less money on their own, some consumers see resellers as price gouging, or trying to make a quick buck off the goods that other people donate for free.
Of course, as I previously outlined, a lot of work, time, and thought goes into setting prices for vintage and secondhand items, and reselling is a service business.
Resellers, many of whom are women engaging in feminine-coded labour such as cleaning, repairing, and styling, shouldn’t feel guilty for confidently assigning value to their work when it’s their work that is most often undervalued.
Despite this, the fact remains: the secondhand economy is closely linked to issues of class, which is inherently linked to all kinds of other socio-political matters, including race and gender.
As environmental concerns shape consumers’ choices, those who have not always needed to shop secondhand are now frequenting thrift stores in an effort to shop sustainably.
As thrifting becomes more mainstream, the stigma around used clothing and goods has lessened — but it’s still a factor in terms of how many shoppers view the value of secondhand goods.
In a capitalist society that has conditioned most of us to want the best, the latest, the newest, and always more, there’s an inherent belief that anything used is worth less. That value judgment doesn’t just follow items, either, but the people who purchase them — most often meaning lower income and racialized people.
While the secondhand stigma is subsiding, there are other factors at play outside the control of vintage resellers. The low prices at thrift shops have meant they have historically been the shopping choice for the poor and working class.
People have become accustomed to donating their used goods instead of throwing them away, and have come to view this as a charitable act — except many of these thrift-store companies are not actually operating charities. They use donated goods for profit and pay a flat rate to charities.
But big companies such as Savers Inc., which owns the Value Village brand, have been steadily raising their prices for years now to align with inflation, and the public is taking note, equating the price jumps with an increased number of resellers.
But as anyone who works in the secondhand industry will tell you, there is no shortage of stuff. In fact, even while the reselling economy has taken off in recent years — particularly picking up during the pandemic — landfills continue to overflow.
It’s up to each individual seller how much they want to charge for their items, but for those who take into consideration the roots of the secondhand economy and want their business to be inclusive of and accessible to everyone, there are a few methods to achieve this.
It’s good business sense for you and benefits the customer to ensure you offer a wide range of price points so that almost anyone could take a piece of your shop home with them. You’ll make more sales, and turn over products more quickly.
You can (and should!) still hold onto those high-value items for the right customer, while still offering deals for people who might need them.
Consider offering tiered or sliding scale pricing on some of your items. Think of it as having an “ideal sale price,” a “just right” sale price, and a “best price,” for the right person.
You could list these prices publicly, or keep them to yourself until the time is right and someone makes an offer. But knowing those figures in advance will make it easier for you and the customer to make an informed decision.
The hard part about being flexible on price is some customers may try to take advantage of this option. Framing it as “accessible pricing” could help by letting your higher income customers know you’re not just open to bartering for the sake of it, but you are offering a compassionate price for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford something.
But if you can see that an item is sparking joy for an individual, and the only barrier is price, ask them: what price would you need it to be? You might lose a little bit of money in the moment, but hopefully you’ve made someone’s day, earned a repeat customer, and sent your vintage item to a good home.
Vintage resellers are small businesses, and we rely on the goodwill of our communities to do what we do, whether it’s being invited into the homes of people who are looking to sell their things, or participating in community pop-up markets.
If you want to give back, consider donating a portion of your profits to a local charity. The nice thing about owning your own business is this is a totally flexible option. You can decide which charity to which you’re redirecting some of your income and the time period.
Business is about profit, at the end of the day, and of course we’re all trying to make money doing something we’re passionate about. For people starting out, it’s hard to consider how to give back when you might only be scraping by yourself.
But you can find ways to incorporate compassionate pricing into your business model, acknowledging that vintage resellers are operating in a space that has historically been looked down upon and stigmatized.
And if you don’t? That doesn’t mean you should feel guilty, either. You’re a service provider who should assign value to your work.
Chelsea Nash is a freelance writer and owner of Curious Times Vintage.