Trash or Treasure: Finding Flippable Merchandise at Thrift Stores

Last Updated on March 23, 2023 by Kimberly Crawford

Thrift flipping is becoming incredibly popular online for a good reason: it allows entrepreneurs to start a business without investing a large amount of cash. It’s also attractive to environmentally conscious individuals and people that want to run their company out of a home office.

While starting a thrift flipping business doesn’t take a lot of work, it can be difficult to turn a profit. Fortunately, you have a lot of say over what type of merchandise you carry, and what you sell plays a big factor in your success. You need to know where and how to buy your products.

In this article, we’ll explain what thrift flipping is, where to buy merchandise, and how to determine if your merchandise is likely to sell. Our tips will help you find the best products.

Thrift Flipping Overview: What it is and What it Isn’t

man buying on store

Before we look at how to find and sell flippable merchandise, you’ll need to know the facts about thrift flipping. This section covers what thrift flipping is, what it isn’t, and whether it’s ethical.

What is Thrift Flipping? 

Thrift flipping is the practice of finding used items at thrift stores, sprucing them up, and reselling them for a profit. It’s a great way to make money while breathing new life into used items with minimal upfront capital, and there are plenty of items you can find if you know where to look.

You can find furniture, electronics, antiques, vintage clothing, and more, but you may need some skills to get the most out of this venture. For example, if you want to sell vintage clothing, you may need to learn how to sew. Want to see electronics? You need to be good with tech.

Is Thrift Flipping the Same as Upcycling?

By definition, upcycling is when a person sells items they’ve used and already owned to another person. On the other hand, thrift flipping describes the act of buying used products from somewhere else. Both involve selling used goods, but only one requires you to buy items first.

Is Thrift Flipping Ethical?

Yes and no. While selling used clothing does cut down on the environmental costs of high fashion and retail waste, whether or not thrift flipping is ethical can depend on the sellers. Some sellers intentionally scam customers, but there are many reputable sellers that don’t do this.

Another issue is price gouging. Some thrift stores have upped the price of used goods to capitalize on the thrift flipping market, which puts these items out of reach for the people who need them. With that said, corporations should take the blame for this, not individual sellers.

How to Start Your Thrift Flipping Journey: Shop for Used Goods 

It may feel like a requirement to only shop at thrift stores if you’re interested in thrift flipping, but that’s a myth. You can find lots of used goods all over your city and across the internet.

While you could buy new products, they’re less likely to sell for a profit unless they’re incredibly discounted. That’s why you should stick to stores, apps, or websites that specifically sell used goods for now, but you can still travel to other shops when they run deals or special promotions.

Here are 10 places you can find used goods for thrift flipping:

  1. Online Marketplaces

Places like eBay or Craigslist are full of people selling used goods for low prices. You can choose to get the item in person or order online.

  1. Marketplace Apps

Apps like Poshmark and Etsy are exclusively for sellers who want to sell handmade or used goods. It won’t take long for you to find some hidden gems.

  1. Thrift Stores

If you have a thrift store nearby, start rummaging through. Thrift stores contain a whole host of items, ranging from furniture to clothing to board games.

  1. Grand Openings

Grand openings often run limited-time deals. Use Openings24 to find a plethora of grand openings and re-openings for stores and services in your area.

  1. Yard Sales

During the spring and summer, drive around your town and stop by a few yard sales. They’re the perfect place to find quality used items for a fraction of the price.

  1. Flea Markets

Also called a “swap meet,” a flea market is a street market where people sell second-hand goods. You can find lots of expensive items for incredibly low prices.

  1. Antique Shops

An antique shop can be hit and miss, but there’s a good chance you’ll find small items, clothing, and/or out-of-date furniture in a rock-bottom price range.

  1. Local Fairs

Want to buy used or low-cost new items and support your community at the same time? Then go to a local fair! You’re bound to find something interesting to sell.

  1. Pawn Shops

Many people sell high-quality or expensive items at pawn shops to quickly turn a profit, so you’ll probably find a lot of cool things here if you have the patience.

  1. Galleries or Shows

Whether you’re an art collector or interested in memorabilia, galleries, and shows can put you face-to-face with some really cool low-cost products.

Once you know where to shop, you can start gauging whether an item is worth the investment. The steps you’ll go through to reach this conclusion will depend on the item and your market.

How to Check if an Item is Worth Sprucing Up and Selling

Thrift stores are filled to the brim with products, so you’ll need to know which products stand to make a profit once you’ve spruced them up. 

Here’s how you can tell if an item is worth selling.

Is it in a High-Selling Category Item?

The used market, like any other market, has its fair share of profitable and unprofitable markets. 

If you want to increase your chances of selling, choose one of these categories:

  1. Use electronics
  2. Clothes
  3. Collectibles
  4. Video games
  5. Shoes
  6. Watches
  7. Bags and purses
  8. Sunglasses
  9. Books/Textbooks
  10. Old currency or stamps
  11. Vinyl records or tapes
  12. Appliances
  13. Furniture
  14. Jewelry
  15. Popular toys
  16. Old TVs
  17. Electronic parts
  18. Home decor
  19. Bikes
  20. Sports equipment
  21. Gym equipment
  22. Garden tools
  23. Instruments
  24. Wheelchairs
  25. Rollators
  26. Crutches
  27. Ceramics
  28. CDs and DVDs
  29. Power tools
  30. Hunting equipment

It’s completely possible to sell items that aren’t in these categories, but you’ll have an easier time finding customers if you stick to them. From there, you search for individual products.

Am I Knowledgeable About This Category?

Let’s say you see a large selection of Pokemon cards at a thrift store. They have a bit of dirt on them, but you’re sure you can clean them. You’re aware that Pokemon cards are collectibles, have a large market, and typically sell for a lot of money. But you’ve never sold, played with, or researched the value of these cards before. Show you buy them anyway and take a chance?

The answer is hopefully “no.” Cards can sell for a lot of money, but they have to be rare and in great condition, but none of that will matter if the card is simply collectible. In fact, it’s easier to sell Pokemon cards that work well in the recent meta than it is to sell an unusable card.

If you don’t know anything about a category, don’t buy from it until you do. Not only could you lose a lot of money, but you’ll be sitting on a product that someone else could have used.

Is the Item in Good Condition?

If possible, purchase an item that’s in good condition. “Good condition” can mean something different depending on the item. For example, a VCR may look clean and usable from the outside, but if it’s missing a part or a part is damaged, and you can’t repair it, you’re out of luck.

This is another reason why product and category knowledge is so important. Without this knowledge, you could end up buying a lot of aesthetically appealing but useless junk.

Items don’t have to be in immaculate condition in order to sell them (more on that later), but they can’t be so damaged that they’ll become unprofitable if you try to spruce them up. Don’t just think about how much money the item will cost to repair either, as time also plays a factor.

Does the Condition Actually Matter?

In some cases, the condition of the item doesn’t actually matter for two reasons: the item isn’t collectible, or you can fix it up. In other cases, the condition matters, but it’s irrelevant if it looks pretty or not. This is true for car parts, vinyl records, TVs, video games, and gym equipment. 

While it’s true that some people will collect vinyl records, televisions, and video games, there’s still a market for people who want to use these items without paying sky-high prices. To spruce these items up, you can give them a case or buff out any scratches, stains, or imperfections.

Do I Have the Skills to Spruce it Up?

This is a pretty easy hurdle to jump because you should be aware of your own skill level. Do you want to sell clothes, but you can’t sew? You have two options: learn how to sew or shop in another category. Can you sew, but not well? Consider if you want to upgrade your skills.

If you’re in a market where problems are often hidden (i.e., electronics), we recommend having a high level of knowledge in that category. If you know how to build, troubleshoot, and repair desktop computers, then it won’t really matter if you find out it’s damaged after you bought it.

In markets like clothing and furniture, where you can visibly see imperfections, ask yourself if you can fix that specific problem. If you can’t, move on to a project that’s easier to complete.

Do I Have the Time to Spruce it Up?

Many used market newbies make the mistake of buying something, knowing they have the skills to spruce it up, but it ends up collecting dust because they lack the time. Remember that you’re doing this to make a profit. If it’s not sellable, then it might as well be useless to your business.

Can You Sell the Item in a Reasonable Time Frame?

This question is hard to answer because the used market is volatile. But there are some questions you can ask yourself to determine if you’ll sell an item in a reasonable time frame.

Run through these questions before you purchase an item to sell it quickly:

  • Is your country in the middle of a recession?
  • Can you sell this product on multiple websites?
  • Is this product trending on TikTok?
  • Is the product sold out everywhere?
  • Do you know someone who needs this product?

Sometimes, you’ll have to liquidate the item because it’s been selling around too long. If possible, don’t sell it for less than what you paid for. If the product still isn’t moving, consider if you want to hold onto it in the hopes the item will become popular at a later date.

Is it Sought-After or Rare?

This is a no-brainer, but it’ll take category knowledge to get this right. It’ll also take a lot of shopping around. If a person knows the item is rare, then you won’t be able to find it for a reasonable price. Rare or sought-after items typically fly off shelves quickly, so be vigilant. 

Would the Average Person Use This?

Everyone needs clothes, furniture, and electronics, so you’re likely going to make a profit if you purchase things that are always in style in these categories. With that said, you could be facing more competition. That’s why you should add some niche items to your online used shop.

Can I Sell this to a Profitable Niche?

You’ve determined that the average person wouldn’t be interested in this product, but can you think of a profitable niche that would jump at the chance to take it off your hands? Then go for it! 

One niche that sells well that’s often overlooked is alternative fashion. Think goth, cottage-core, rockabilly, and punk. Plenty of people who are into alternative fashion often shop online, as they don’t live next to stores that cater to their tastes. You could be that store that fills that need.