Consignment Sale Beginner's Guide

Featured Article, Parenting Styles

Whether you’re a new mom checking out the consignment sale scene or are just trying to tighten your belt and save a few bucks on your kids’ clothes, consignment sales continue to be the frugal parent’s preferred way to shop.

But if you’re new to the consigning, it can be quite overwhelming.

Here’s the top Dos and Don’ts to help you navigate the lingo, loopholes and everything else to score great bargains and even better looking clothes shopping at consignment stores.

DO Inspect. When shopping at thrift or consignment stores, make sure you inspect clothing for holes and stains before you make a purchase, suggests Cathy Marks, executive vice president of the consignment franchise, Children’s Orchard, located in the Detroit area.

Check seams, binding, hems and buttons, and look for stains, tears, etc. “Upscale resale stores are very selective about the products they take in and will typically use a special light to check clothing for imperfections,” says Marks. However, it’s smart to also ask about the store’s inspection process to be certain you’re receiving the highest possible quality.

DO expect some lines. On the busiest days of a consignment sale, like the first public sale day and discount day, lines can get long. “If they’re too little to handle a crowd or in a fussy mood, you might want to leave the kids at home. Or pack plenty of snacks and entertainment to keep them content in line,” says Kristine Nelson, who is starting her 10th year running the largest kids consignment sale in Southern California.

DON’T overlook deals. “Despite already deeply discounted prices, resale and consignment stores often hold generous promotions during in the spring and summer,” says Marks. For example, a shop might host a Fill-A-Bag event where shoppers can jam, stuff and cram as many children’s clothing items into one bag and pay just $5 per bag!

Be sure to also check your local resale store for loyalty programs to receive member-only offers. And ask to be put on a mailing list for special items or sales.

DO check for recalls. When looking to buy children’s toys and accessories such as cribs, strollers and high chairs, talk to the seller about how they stay up-to-date on recalls. “Since most items at resale stores do not come with their original packaging, it is up to the consumer to make sure they are not purchasing faulty equipment,” says Marks.

Ensure your family’s safety by looking up recalled items on the Consumer Product and Safety Commission’s (CPSC) website.

DON’T forget about selling. Some stores will give you cash for your kids’ gently used clothing, toys, furniture and accessories. Call ahead for information on what your local resale store is buying.

“Some stores will set up a one-on-one appointment with the buyer, and others allow you to walk in at your convenience to sell your outgrown kid’s stuff,” says Marks.

DO consider current styles. Bring a recent department store catalog, or bookmark your favorite Pinterest fashion-related board on your smart phone or tablet to compare items to the latest fashions while you shop. “Most upscale resale stores receive new inventory daily so you should be able to find current styles in some of the leading brands, like Ralph Lauren, GAP and Calvin Klein,” says Marks.

DO make a list of what you’re looking for. Jot down your favorite manufacturers or brands of clothing. Include details like colors, styles, fabrics, fit and sizes.

DO try it on. Make sure your child can sit, bend, stand and raise her arms in it. Marks says don’t buy something if it needs alterations, unless you can or want do them. That includes little things like sewing a button or hemming along with major alterations like tailoring or replacing a zipper.

DON’T be afraid to ask for help. Ask the people who work there for help finding what you’re looking for. “Remember, they’re there to help you succeed in your quest to find the perfect item,” says Marks.

DON’T expect to find everything. Nelson says there are some taboo items parents should try to avoid purchasing at consignment shops. “It’s not recommended to buy used car seats since you can’t guarantee that they haven’t been in an accident and/or are missing parts or are damaged.” Additionally, car seats have expiration dates because the styrofoam in many car seats breaks down with the heat and sun in the car.

“Cribs can be another no-no because the safety guidelines for cribs changed in 2011,” she says. Research a prospective crib on the CPSC’s website to ensure you’re buying a newer crib and that all parts/pieces are there to make it safe.

DO build your vocabulary. Nelson says there are two important consignment shop phrases that parents new to the scene should know. Those are:

  • Pre-sale day. This is an important day, says Nelson. “If you want to get the best pick of the merchandise, you need to get in on pre-sale day, the day before the public sale.” Consignors and volunteers are generally invited to the pre-sale, however some shops also have VIP pre-sale passes that you can sign up for or purchase to get in on this day.
  • Discount day. “This is the second most important day to shop at a consignment store,” says Nelson. On the last day of a sale, many stores slash prices, selling items at 50 percent discounts.

Nelson suggests asking for a store’s schedule or calling ahead to find out what added savings might be associated with shopping on a certain day.

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