Earlier this year, I started selling preloved clothing online. It began as monthly flash sales as part of this blog, and more recently I separated my TBG identity and my online thrift store identity to form Midsize Thrift.
I’d say other than comments about my eyebrows, messages about selling online are one of the most popular themes to hit my DMs. It’s been 6 months since I started reselling online, and I’ve learned a hell of a lot along the way. To help those of you who are thinking of setting up your own online store, or selling via Instagram, Facebook, Depop, Poshmark or other platform, here are 14 lessons I’ve learned in 6 months of reselling – and a few truths and tips about selling your op shop finds online.
Oh and PS this is a long’un, so grab a coffee and settle in.
1. Making sales doesn’t just ‘happen’
When I launched my first collection, I had one order – and even that was pretty lucky. I had great feedback about the items, lots of views, and my existing Instagram following gave me a huge head start. But only one sale.
Luckily for my mental state, I’d managed to go into it with a fairly realistic outlook. All I wanted was one sale so I didn’t look like a complete flop, and I got that. I was pretty stoked. The hard part is carrying on, investing more money in more stock, and announcing your next collection again with the very real possibility that nothing will sell. At this point I think having an audience was almost to my detriment. If you start from scratch, not many people will see you fail, but with 8000 followers watching me, my failure would have been very public.
You just have to keep going and believe in what you’re doing. Don’t panic source, don’t panic price. If you’re deciding when to start your reselling venture, I’d strongly recommend waiting until you’ve got enough financial wiggle room to pour extra money in each month or whenever you need to push on without sales to back you up. It can take months to see consistent sales, so be prepared to stump up more than you get back for quite a while.
2. Holding inventory is a real problem
For me, the biggest bust of reselling clothes online is unsold inventory. Inventory that hasn’t yet been listed is fine – you have high hopes at that point. But stock that’s been sitting there month after month, promotion after promotion not getting sold… that’s where you’re holding onto dead money. For me, it’s a space issue too. We live in a one bedroom flat, and my ‘warehouse’ is also known as the corner of our living room. Unsold stock is a burden in more ways than one.
3. You need to number-crunch to turn a profit
This is in someway tied to point 2, but it’s very easy to fall into the pattern of all your profits being held in inventory. For the first little while, this is how it will probably be for you, unless you’re selling at huge margins.
When you start to see consistent sales, make sure you start to carve out some profits that aren’t driven back into more product. When you love op shopping and sourcing new goodies, it can be easy to think it doesn’t matter about separating profits and business cash flow because it’s just fun money. But this is a short term mindset. You won’t be the person you are today forever. When you can, start reserving some profits that you don’t use to buy more stock. When you see this growing, it’s a sign your business is growing.
I’d also strongly recommend separating your personal and business income/expenses. It helps you source stock more mindfully, and gives you a clearer picture on how you’re tracking. Full disclosure – I’ve only just started doing this, but it’s helping me keep track of budgets and knowing when I should/shouldn’t buy.
Keeping to a stock budget is especially tough with preloved reselling because of the sheer essence of it. If you see something awesome that’ll go great in your store, you’ve got to get it there and then because stuff doesn’t hang about. I feel you – it’s so hard to say no. But setting budgets and boundaries between your personal and business finances will really help in the long run. Jen from @abritishposher has great tips on business budgeting – she’s a brit in the US and sells on Poshmark full time, but her tips are still mega relevant even though we don’t have Poshmark in Australia.
4. You need to cut the emotion
When I talk about those items that just won’t budge, it’s very rarely the ones you think it’ll be. Sometimes you’ll source a dicey top that you regret buying the second you get home – but they’re not the ones that hang around. Often, what hangs around are your favourite pieces that you thought would be your golden orb for that collection.
As an example, I sourced a 100% silk Marc Jacobs blouse that retails for $350. Even discounting it down to under $30 couldn’t help me shift it.
5. You must keep records from the very beginning
Two words: keep records. Of what you buy, of what you sell, of how much it sold for and where you’re sending it to. If parcels get lost and get returned to sender, you’ll want to be able to track where it needs to go to and how to contact them.
You’ll also need to keep these records for paying tax. I’m almost certain a lot of resellers I engage with don’t declare their profits for tax, but because of my other business activities (and because, um, it’s the law) I’m very upfront with paying taxes on my profits. Even if it starts as a bit of fun, you’re buying items with the intention of making a profit. I hate to be a ball buster, but that’s taxable. Keep records early and declare from the get-go. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress down the track.
I’d also recommend working with an accountant to file your tax return when product is involved. It gets more complicated when you’re holding stock because of the formula that’s applied to opening and closing stock.
Side note: you also need to have an Australian Business Number (ABN) or equivalent in your country to legitimately sell clothes for profit.
6. Discounting is a constant internal battle
Some sellers do sales, some don’t. I personally think that too much discounting leads people to believe they can wait for a discount – and unfortunately that’s a pattern I’ve become accustomed to with some sellers I buy from.
It’s a constant battle between wanting to ride it out, managing expectations among your audience in terms of your propensity to discount, and wanting to shift unsold stock. If you want my personal opinion, keep sales infrequent but generous. That way, people won’t expect them or make purchase decisions based on the possibility of a sale, but they’ll also feel rewarded when you do offer them a discount. I’ve offered discounts exclusively to people who’ve bought from me in the past, too.
7. Locking down processes and perfecting them will save you a lot of headaches
In my first few months of selling, packing and posting evenings used to be a riot in my house. I hadn’t locked down my processes yet, so each month was a different system, different packaging or just something different for me to end up crying about. Once I got the hang of my production line of balancing orders in my payment system and inventory spreadsheet, then printing labels, laying out clothes, cross checking, and then sticking, bagging, and sealing – it all got a ton easier.
8. Choose your method of sale and stick to it
Some people sell on Instagram stories, some have a website, some sell on eBay, some sell on their Instagram grid… there are pros and cons to all of them.
Instagram is favoured by many (me included at the moment, while I find my feet with Midsize Thrift), but the major downside is that you don’t own any of your content, or have any rights to that account. If your Instagram is hacked, closed or the entire platform shuts down, your entire business model is gone. If you are selling on Instagram, at the very least keep a track of email addresses of your past customers. A mailing list is the only thing you own. To futureproof yourself fully, set up an ecommerce website.
Another pain point for me with selling clothes on Instagram is you have to be very organised with recording the handles of people who have purchased from you – particularly if you’re selling on your stories. The Instagram DM search function isn’t very detailed, so if you lose that message thread, it can take time to find it again!
9. Postage is just a big fat shithead
Oh postage. It’s as much of an internal battle as discounting. You want to offer flat rate, but sometimes you end up getting shat on by the weight limit.
I offer flat rate shipping, and I’d say about 1 in 8 parcels end up making me loss on the postage. If someone buys 4 tops, a pair of shoes and a jacket, they pay the same postage as someone who buys one top. That’s what customers expect and it’s become the ecommerce standard. People want to know that they’re paying. But on multiple occasions, that big package has cost me $30+ to post, leaving me $20 out of pocket on my flat rate – but of course, you’re getting the perk of a big order. It’s something that’s very hard to get right.
Then there’s choosing the provider. In Australia, postage is renowned for its overall crapness. Australia Post don’t really give a shit, and what many don’t know is that they’ll only cover you up to $50 for lost parcels, no matter what the value is.
Until recently, courier service Sendle were no better on that front, but they’ve just introduced an excess-free insurance of $300 per parcel, which is a game changer for small businesses.
10. Appearance and captions are everything when it comes to your listings
It’s easy to get lazy with your listings, especially on items that should sell themselves. But you can never be too clean with the way you present your content, in my opinion.
A clothes steamer was hands down the best thing I’ve bought for my reselling business – and paying a bit extra does make quite a big difference in my experience. It’s great for handwash only items, but can also be a quick way to freshen up all your clothes and have them looking crisp for photography.
I follow so many great preloved sellers who put out incredible content to promote their products, but still see crinkled dresses and unironed tops all the time. I know it’s tough, especially when starting out – I’ve been lazy with it myself – but do your products justice by taking a few seconds to steam them out before photographing.
11. Having a focus will help you stay authentic and source purposefully
My early collections were a bit of everything. If it would sell, I’d buy it. I had a loose direction that involved an ethos of ‘preloved fashion for less than fast fashion’, and I erred on the side of better fabrics like cotton and silk, and less polyester, but other than that I was winging it.
While moving to Midsize Thrift has cut out a large chunk of my customer base (a lot of what I sold was size 6 and 8), it’s given me a clear purpose and it feels truer to me. I can try the items on myself and see how they look, and I can model them myself and give honest tips on what I’d style them with. Choosing a niche feels counter-productive at first, but I’m confident it was the right decision.
12. You have to invest to move forward
At one point in my online selling journey, I bought a bulk bag of postage satchels, 2 reams of labels and a label printer. Those things cost me about $400, and I hadn’t made anywhere near that in profit. But having plenty of packing materials and a super-quick and professional way of addressing my parcels has streamlined my processes and therefore means I can sell more. The label maker was honestly life changing.
If you’re in the market for one, I have the Dymo 4XL. It prints labels big enough for standard courier sizing (150mm x 100mm), and is the cheapest and best on the market for that size.
13. The whole end-to-end process of a single sale is way more complex than you think
From the outside, it looks like you galavant around thrift stores all day, list some stuff and make $500 in a flash. Take it from me – it’s 100% not like that.
Thrifting is actually exhausting, and takes a lot of searching, petrol, walking, parking, sweating, looking for toilets and drinks when you’ve been out for hours. Then the listing, pricing, inventory admin, packing, labelling and posting all takes time. It’s a much bigger time investment than I thought it would be. I’d really recommend setting aside big chunks of time so you’re not rushing yourself and making mistakes.
14. You are a business and you’ve got a duty of care to your customers
The first time this slapped me in the face was when a parcel got lost in the post. It was the first month I’d had a solid few sales fly in, and I was feeling so good. And then I found out the parcel was lost. I was set to have to refund about $50, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it really stamped on my progress that month. Luckily, the parcel turned up and it arrived safely, but that was a wake up call that it really isn’t over until the parcel is in their hands and they’re happy.
Yes, you can put strong disclaimers on your content explaining that there are no refunds under any circumstances and that the seller accepts responsibility for the parcel, but realistically, humans aren’t programmed that way. If you don’t offer at least a partial refund, it looks a bit shitty on you.
I’m currently handling a return-to-sender debacle, where the parcel didn’t get delivered and has come back to me. Your customers have paid for an item, and as a legitimate business, it’s your responsibility to get it to them.
15. Try not to compare yourself to others
Selling clothes on social media is very public. People can see when something’s sold and see when it’s been hanging around for weeks. As a reseller, it can be tempting to compare yourself to others and think ‘how does all her stuff sell so fast?’ or ‘I thought my stock was great, what am I doing wrong?’. Look to other resellers for inspiration and share advice between you – groups like Thrifty Sisters on Facebook are great – but try not to compare. Comparison is the thief of joy, as they say.
And that leads me onto my next point…
16. Luck plays a huge role in your success
I’m the first to admit I had a huge head start in my reselling growth. I saw consistent sales after about my 3rd month, but that’s because I had an existing following and therefore way more eyeballs on my product – but that following didn’t land in my lap. I’ve built that following over a year of consistency and a shit ton of hard work.
What’s more, a following of 10K+ sounds quite large, but your product will be irrelevant or inaccessible for a large number of people. Luck plays a huge role in finding your tribe of people who share the same style as you, and who love what you do. Having a focus or a niche will help with this, but it can slow your growth at the same time. It’s really a game of consistency, self-belief, and a little bit of luck.
17. Sharing your personality goes a long way
While you might be confident that your products are great, customers want and need more from you than just great looking stuff. The retail market is competitive nowadays, and consumers have a lot of choice. You need to stand out somehow, and showing your personality is a huge part of that. People love buying from people they like, people they can relate to. Staying anonymous is tempting, but when you can, show your face, personally thank your buyers in posts or on stories, and show your personality so people can relate to you.
18. There’s enough to go around
When you’re starting out and not seeing many sales, it can feel like the market is saturated and you might wonder whether there really are too many resellers. There aren’t. The preloved market is growing rapidly and is set to out run fast fashion eventually.
Don’t be disheartened if someone else has a similar style to you, or if you see others popping up that feel like they’re edging you out. I’ve absolutely thought this, it’s a very natural thing to feel when something’s your baby and you want it to do well. But it’s really not the case, and the more sellers there are, the more legitimate the preloved market becomes, and the more consumers will flock to your store. Just give them time to discover you, and keep pumping out content that’s true to you and your brand.