How to make your thrift store stand out

Customers judge thrift stores along 5 primary metrics:

  • Price
  • Selection
  • Staff
  • Cleanliness and organization
  • Item quality/condition

To have an outstanding thrift store that customers love, come back to, and tell their friends about, you'll need to dedicate time to each of those factors.

Price

Face it - people are shopping at your store to get a deal. Often they also support your mission, but they are primarily there to get the items they want at a better price than they could get at a store. So, you will need to fill that need. One way is simply to price everything cheap. If you have enough inventory coming in to keep the racks full and enough staff to load them up, this is a viable option. You might sell some things too cheap, but you could make it up in volume. However, most stores don't find themselves in a position like that. Here are some ideas to set your pricing in line with customer expectations.

Have a price book: If you individually price items, have a guide at the back of the store that's easy to understand for your staff and volunteers. Consistent pricing is seen as a positive by most customers. As long as your prices are consistent, and a good chunk cheaper than retail, they don't need to be bargains. (If you are using ThriftCart for tagging your items, you can even have your price book built in to ThriftCart. Your staff won't even need to look at the sign board with your pricing policy!)

Have some kind of automatic discounting system: We have an entire article on this topic, but basically it's possible you might overprice some items. With color-based discounts, you put different color price tags on items each week (or each month, in some cases). You then put up a sign announcing discounts on the items with a color from a few weeks ago. If there's a big sign that says all purple tag items 50% off, that will grab the attention of your bargain shoppers. It's fun to get things 50% off, particularly if the original price was a reasonable price to start with. The quality and vintage shoppers will find the items when they are still full price. The someone less desirable items will stay on the store floor and be found by the bargain hunters.

Do department sales: Sometimes you'll find yourself weighed down by an excess of stock in one category or another. Do an agressive department sale for a limited time. Customers will be excited, and you'll reduce your excess inventory.



Selection

It's frustrating to go shopping and not find anything, so having a good selection is key to making your store stand out among its peers. If you're selling clothes, sort them by size and pay attention to sizes that sell out quickly. If you shop at Target or Walmart, you can be fairly confident they'll have something in your size, but that's not always the case at thrift stores. Many thrift stores have a huge pile of clothing in the back waiting to be processed. Try to prioritize putting up new items in the sizes that you're low on. People might be tempted to buy an item that's not the color or style that they want if the price is right, but no amount of pricing adjustments will make people buy an item that simply does not fit.



Staff

The attitude of your staff is one of the top factors mentioned in thrift store reviews. Friendly and helpful staff are praised, and unfriendly and rude staff are scorned. You can sort volunteers so that those with a non-customer-friendly disposition are at the back of the store sorting and pricing items, rather than interacting with customers. Staff members should be reminded to not engage in personal conversations while interacting with customers. This is particular frustrating for customers who are trying to check out. Check out is the last memory customers have of the store, so having an unpleasent checkout experience is a big turn off. You can have your cashiers ask if the customer had any trouble finding items today. Don't ask the standard retail question asking if they found everything they are looking for, because in thrift with its mixed lot of items, the answer will often be no. If I came in looking for a size 32x34 Levis 501 jeans, and there were none, that's not actually a problem. But if I came in looking for jeans, and couldn't find the pants and jeans section, then that's an issue. In any case, a welcome!, a thank you!, a smile, and an offer of assistance go a long way!



Cleanliness and organization

Remember to keep this in mind! Have a staff member regularly tidy up items that are left lying around by customers. Sort clothes by size. Have similar items close together. If items are kept in nooks and cranies in the back of the store, have a clear sign indicating where the items are. Have professionally printed signs hanging from the ceiling indicating what can be found in different parts of the store. If there are corners or backrooms that's aren't clearly visible from the entrance area of the store, have clear signs indicating that there's still more of the store to see, and let the customers know what's back there. Clean the bathrooms twice as often as is neccessary, and make signage for bathrooms obvious. Have more hooks in the fitting rooms than you think the customers need. Put up bright lights (it can make things seem bigger, and thus more organized, without even needing the space.) Keep tall items to the edges of the store, and short items in the middle so customers can see over them making the space feel bigger.



Item quality/condition

Thrift store shoppers know they are getting used items, but they don't want junk. Pay attention to items with holes or damage. If you sell electrical items, have an area where customers can plug in the items, or offer a return period on those items if they don't work. If there are damanged items, you might still be able to sell them, but make sure they are clearly marked as such. You could maybe even have a separate small section of the store for super-bargain damaged items. If you can separate items by quality, and price appropriately, you can appeal both to the bargain hunters willing to buy damanged items as well as those looking for usable items at reasonable prices. Also, you may just have to recycle or throw out some items. Donors often use thrift stores as their personal spring cleaning dumpster. It's unfortunate that you sometimes get junk, but it's sometimes best to just throw out an item, than it is to frustrate your customers.



We hope you stand out!

If you put effort into each of those topics, it'll be hard for customers not to love you. Being on top of your game on each of those 5 items is a great way to stand out among the crowd.