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Navigating Seasonal Inventory Shifts: Tips For Thrift Stores

by | Mar 1, 2024

box of thrift store donations

Fluctuations in inventory are one of the biggest issues that thrift stores face. Unlike other retail merchandising stores and shopping centers, thrift shops don’t simply purchase their inventory. Instead, they are almost entirely reliant on donations from generous individuals. As such, inventory management is extremely important, especially when new donations are limited.

Inventory management will ensure that your thrift store doesn’t run short on new items. A bare shop floor is a thrift store’s worst enemy, as customers are more likely to take a quick look around and leave if your store appears empty. Because you’re reliant on donors to bring in fresh items, the only way to keep your store well stocked is with smooth management.

There are several methods that can help you manage seasonal inventory shifts for thrift stores. From integrating the right POS system to planning ahead for seasonal transitions and keeping track of your inventory, the possibilities are numerous.

Understanding Seasonal Inventory Trends

Understanding that there are indeed seasonal inventory trends is the first step to proper thrift store inventory management. Seasonal trends happen because people want to donate different items at different times of the year. That includes different clothing styles, holiday decor, outdoor gear, sporting equipment, and more.

For instance, according to USA Today, October and November are the best months to sell coats, mittens, and winter clothing, as people are looking to stock up before it gets too cold. April and May, on the other hand, are peak months to sell summer items, such as pool gear, shorts, and tank tops.

In addition to weather patterns, national holidays also play a role in what you should sell and when. Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day, or Labor Day, thrift stores see more customers around national holidays than any other time of year. As such, it’s important to save certain decor for the appropriate time of year and build up inventory for your busiest days.

Planning Ahead For Seasonal Transitions

Inventory planning is essential to prepare for these seasonal transitions. For example, if you receive a bunch of Christmas and winter donations in March or April when people are spring cleaning, save those items until October and November. Filling your store with winter items right before summer, or vice versa, will limit sales and eat up valuable floor space.

Creating a timeline or calendar is the best way to ensure you fill your storefront with the right items at the right time. For example: 

September – October  November – December January – February March – April May – June  July – August
Jackets, sweat pants, and other cool-weather clothing items, Thanksgiving decorations Christmas decor, coats, jackets, pants, and other winter clothing  Last-minute winter clothing, Valentine’s Day decor  Jackets, long pants, spring clothing, hiking gear, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter decor Shorts, T-shirts, tank tops and other summer clothing, pool gear, sports equipment, July 4th decor Continue with the summer gear and clothing, fall  decor, and select warm/cool weather clothing

It’s important to keep track of your donations and store them in categorized sections, so you don’t put the wrong thing out at the wrong time.

Running Promotions

In addition to keeping track of your seasonal items and stocking them accordingly, you should also run corresponding sales and promotions. These promotions should be planned in conjunction with your busiest days. For instance, you could plan promotional campaigns where all seasonal items are 50% off for the week leading up to a national holiday, as well as for the week after. With Christmas and Thanksgiving, for example, discount Christmas and Thanksgiving decor the week of and the week after each of these holidays.

With clothes, on the other hand, plan your promotions for the weeks immediately after you bring in stock for the next season. In other words, summer clothing would go on sale in September and October, while winter clothing would go on sale in March and April.

While it’s important to have plenty of items stored up for a particular season, you don’t want to get stuck with the same inventory year after year.

Seasonal Inventory Procurement

As part of the planning process, it’s important to be proactive in terms of the donations you receive. In addition to keeping seasonal items in storage for the appropriate time of year, you may need to actively seek out donations that are currently in season.

One way to do that is by letting the public know what types of donations you need the most. Many thrift stores can do this via their website or by being active on social media.

If donations alone are not enough to keep your store stocked with in-season items, consider purchasing items at garage sales or other consignment stores. You can also purchase items in bulk from wholesalers and sell them at retail prices.

If you’re new in the community, you’ll find that in-season donations are easier to come by the longer you’re there. This happens because, according to the World Economic Forum, people hesitate to trust second-hand stores they aren’t familiar with. By building trust and relationships in the community, however, people are more likely to frequent your store and make helpful donations.

Merchandising Strategies For Seasonal Management

To maximize seasonal sales, it’s essential to get into the spirit of the season – and not just for Christmas. The best way to do that is by prominently featuring seasonal displays in your store. It also helps to decorate your store accordingly so that people feel festive and at ease when they’re shopping.

Tasteful seasonal decor will make your store feel more organized and welcoming, which can increase customer engagement. It may be worth investing in mannequins and an interior decorator for these tasks. Remember, thrift stores are a $50 billion+ industry, so there is money to be made if you plan and strategize accordingly. 

Pricing and Promotion Tactics

Set of colorful blank hang tag on wooden background.In the same way that you run promotions for holidays, it’s also important to run seasonal promotions that follow seasonal trends. One way to do this is to implement a dynamic pricing strategy with color-coded price tags so that your prices and discounts change according to the season. Dynamic pricing tactics will also help prevent overstocking seasonal items.

While word of mouth is a great way to generate thrift shopping interest, advertising your promotions on social media is even better. You’ll reach a wider and more diverse crowd so that everyone can take part in your sales. Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok are great places to start!

Managing Seasonal Surges and Declines

When you implement thrift store inventory management techniques correctly, you will experience seasonal surges throughout the year. When surges happen, it’s important to have enough personnel to handle them. Consider hiring extra help around the holidays and when you’re running special promotions to keep up with demand.

You should also consider remaining open for longer during these busy periods and incorporating new checkout strategies. Keeping as many registers open as possible or adding self-checkout stations to your store are also great ideas.

However, it’s important to remember that anytime there are seasonal surges, seasonal declines are soon to follow. Therefore, to avoid overstock and blowout or clearance sales, planning for declines is important. You can do this by strategically implementing pricing markdowns on items that are going out of season to make way for fresh inventory.

Monitoring and Evaluating Performance

A final seasonal inventory tip for thrift stores is to monitor and evaluate your performance. Active monitoring and evaluation are the only way to know if your actions are working. This includes listening to feedback from customers and employees and hearing what they have to say about the merchandising strategies you’re using.

More importantly, however, it means having the ability to track sales and inventory so that you know what’s selling and what isn’t. The only effective way to do this is with a thrift store POS system. A POS, or point of sale system, helps you actively track sales, inventory, donations, and more. ThriftCart provides an all-in-one system including data analytics and inventory performance metrics that will help you minimize overstock and maximize profit.

Final Thoughts

Seasonal inventory planning and management is the only way to manage the inevitable inventory shifts thrift stores face. From understanding and planning for seasonal transitions to incorporating pricing tactics and tracking key performance indicators, seasonal retail strategies are the key to thrift store success.

Planning and implementing these strategies will help you increase sales and profit at your thrift store. You will also provide a more enjoyable shopping experience to customers. With a POS software designed specifically for thrift stores, following these best practices will become second nature and greater success will soon follow. Request a demo of ThriftCart today to learn more!