5 Good Reasons to Shop Second Hand

(first published on May 24, 2019)

According to recent statistics, 64% to 82% of Canadians shop second hand. There are lots of good reasons to do this, including financial considerations, environmental concerns, and personal creativity.

Is there a difference between second hand shops and thrift shops? Well, usually in thrift shops the primary consideration is price. The lure of low prices and hidden treasures means less focus on customer experience. The stores may be dirtier or crowded, and the items not organized for easy shopping. Second hand stores range from thrift shops at the low end to curated vintage boutiques at the high end, where the uniqueness and quality of the items means prices are higher, and the shops themselves are usually very nice indeed.

The thrifting movement is gaining momentum, especially among millennials. Boomers and Generation Zers have always been big second hand fans. Bargain hunting has expanded from merely purchasing items on sale, to finding treasures that others have missed. For some people, this is like a sport.

Why shop second hand? Here’s five reasons that make good sense to consider shopping this way.

  1. You can pay less for high quality items.Most thrift or second hand stores offer a significant discount from the original retail price. Some online second hand websites advertise up to 90% off on ‘gently used’ items, but their prices are more often around the 50% mark. Put the time in to research original prices yourself, before trusting the website’s valuation. Many websites overprice when stating the original retail price, and that makes you think you are getting a better bargain than you really are. If you can do your own price research upfront and find a shop that has a consistent and favourable pricing system, you are more likely to find true bargains. Put the time in to shop with a careful and educated eye. Don’t fall for false advertising by the big chain stores, even if they are second hand or thrift stores. Just because they say they give you great bargains, doesn’t mean they actually do! Check it out for yourself. That’s how you find the high quality, good condition items that really are incredible bargains.
  2. If it’s already been washed or cleaned, then it’s pre-shrunk.This is ultra important if your legs or arms are a little shorter or longer than average. I don’t know about you, but one of my pet peeves is buying something I love and then after the first wash, it doesn’t fit me anymore! Cotton and rayon garments produced in third world countries are especially prone to shrinkage, and you usually cannot return these items to the store after laundering. So frustrating. When buying new, I try to calculate ahead of time how much shrinkage will occur, but this is not really useful, since there is no science to accurately predict the amount your item will shrink. I remember that blue jeans (before spandex) used to indicate that they would shrink a certain percentage around and in length on the first washing. At least that was some help!
  3. You won’t be wearing the exact same outfit as everyone else.Personal style, baby! The nature of the second hand clothing industry means that there are less identical items for sale in the same geographical location, and that means that when you are wearing second hand, you are less likely to run into someone who is dressed identically to you. As well, if you put your outfit together with your own personal taste in mind, individual items that are somewhat classic or neutral in design will likely not be recognized by their original owner. (And if you are stylish enough, people will try to find out your fashion style secrets. I have had people compliment my outfit and ask me where they can buy something I am wearing, when I know that it was their garment originally and they are not recognizing it! What a boost to the ego.)
  4. You can try a new style or colour with less financial commitment.It costs less to try something out. And if it’s not a successful fashion experiment, it doesn’t hurt so much to pass the item on. Of course, you could always send it to a consignment store and recoup some or all of your original investment! That way, your fashion experiment can sometimes actually be zero cost to you.
  5. It’s good for the environment.Every time you purchase a used garment instead of new, you are reducing the carbon footprint of that garment by up to 82%. That’s a pretty good contribution to reducing pollution for sure. And sometimes, second hand is actually third or fourth hand (especially for really good condition and good quality items), which means that the carbon footprint is reduced to a very minimal amount.

There are socially responsible people who ONLY shop second hand for anything other than food. I am not that extreme, but I certainly admire their commitment to the planet. I know that I shop primarily to improve my own life. I admit my weakness in this area, for sure. Second hand shopping allows me to experience higher quality and more luxury than I would if I bought new. Yep, totally selfish motive, although I know I am happy that I am doing something helpful for the planet too.

Yes, I know the first four reasons are selfish. Sometimes that’s okay. Especially when a side benefit is that you are helping the environment too!