Shopping Consignment Sales: My Experience

Last week my six month old and I ventured over to a large consignment sale in the Washington, DC area. I had two big goals in mind. First, to look for a winter jacket for my three year old. Second, to investigate the prices for items sold there.

I considered selling at this particular sale on more than one occasion. I weighed the decision quite heavily as consigning at a sale involves a lot more work than dragging items to a consignment store. I thought I might earn more, but also dreaded the work involved in itemizing my children’s unwanted belongings, tagging, hanging, organizing and generally doing anything other than folding them into a box and carting them off to the store.

After thinking it over I decided to forgo the consignment sale in favor of the local consignment shop. The primary reason: to get the stuff out of my house as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to hold the stuff until mid-September. I sold two large boxes of stuff in July and August and earned $160.

The consignment sale provides general guidelines for each item sold. For example, a group of onesies should be $3. A winter coat can range from $10 to $15, but I wanted to see those numbers in action. I wanted to see how the quality compared to the guidelines. After all a brand new, name brand shirt should, in theory, cost more than one that shows more signs of wear and tear.

Unfortunately, children were forbidden from entering the sale on the first day, so my son and I waited until the second day and arrived shortly after the doors opened. To get the most accurate pricing picture I think I needed to be there on opening day. By day two things were quite picked over.

From what I saw the majority of items adhered to the sales guidelines, but there were a number of items priced higher. It was interesting to see how consignors priced identical items. Five trains were lined up next to each other on the floor. They ranged in price from $18 to $8. Each had varying signs of wear and tear, and some had more parts than others, but they were all relatively similar in condition. In some instances, the toy with the most wear and tear was priced the highest. It’s clear buyers need to pay special attention when duplicate items are available.

I didn’t find a coat for my oldest, but I did walk away from the sale with two toys. One was a true bargain at only $4. The other was $18. Although I only bought two items I found the best prices on toys, games and used baby equipment.

I looked at boys clothing in both the 12-18 month section and the 5T section and found the quality and selection quite poor. I didn’t see anything on sale for less than $5. Again I would imagine that the better bargains were found on the first day, but overall I was quite disappointed in what I found there.

While I wouldn’t expect used items to look like new, I did expect them to look pretty darn good. A few items had stains, piling and the overall condition of most clothing was quite worn. If these items sold on eBay I would rate them in ‘good’ condition at best.

Perhaps my standards are too high. I don’t use heat on my children’s clothes so they retain their color and shape despite being washed many times. I’ve also received many hand-me-downs over the years in ‘like new’ condition despite being worn by two boys.

Through a combination of sales, coupons and discounted gift cards I can buy brand new clothing for the same price, if not cheaper, then items I found at the consignment sale.

I typically buy clothing for my son from the clearance section of stores. My oldest has followed a typical growth pattern so I’ve been able to buy bargain items at the end of each season. I walk directly to the back of stores like Target, Gymboree, Macy’s and JCPenney and look for one size bigger than the size he currently wears. He wore 3T summer before last and 4T this summer. Next summer I assume he’ll wear 5T. This might not work for all children, (my youngest seems to skip sizes more often), but so far this has worked perfectly for him.

Over the years I’ve shopped at Target, Gymboree, Kohl’s, Macy’s and JCPenney. On average I spend less than $5 per article of clothing. This clothing is cute, colorful and brand new. Based on my experience with this particular sale I believe I can find better bargains on clothing in retail stores and have the peace of mind that I can return any items that don’t fit.

I also think it’s easy to buy too much at these types of sales. At a store I can walk away, think about my purchase and return again on another occasion. At a consignment sale I need to pick up whatever I want as quickly as possible to ensure someone else doesn’t scoop it up behind me. I can’t have buyer’s remorse at a consignment sale either. If I purchase too much I can’t return the next day with a receipt to return it.

I completely understand the desire to shop consignment sales for environmental reasons. There is no doubt that new products have a much larger environmental impact, but I would guess most customers shop consignment sales for the bargains, not for conservation reasons.

On a side note: I do believe second-hand shopping may differ by gender. A few friends with daughters commented on the fine quality of clothing they purchased at this sale. Perhaps girls aren’t as hard on their clothing. A friend also suggested that girls tend to have more clothes hanging in their closets so each article of clothing gets worn less frequently. Since I have two boys I can’t provide much input on that, but it certainly makes sense to me. The number of girls racks was more than double the number of boys.

Based on the prices I saw, and the fact that consignors only receive 55% of all sales, I consider my trips to the local consignment store quite successful. I am still intrigued by consignment sales though and part of me still wants to give it a try. There are always a number of items the consignment store doesn’t want to purchase. Perhaps I’ll gather those items together and sell them in the spring.

4 thoughts on “Shopping Consignment Sales: My Experience”

  1. I agree $5 a piece is a bit expensive. I’ve joined a few local mom groups on Facebook that sell huge bags of gently used clothing for a flat rate of like $30 or so. The moms that try and sell an outfit for $5-10 don’t do so well.

    I just bought a few outfits at Carter’s on clearance for 75% off plus an additional 20% off code and free shipping. My rule that I am really trying to stick to is to spend no more than $10 an outfit (unless it’s WAY too cute). I’ve only spent about $100 on clothing and we have tons for the 0-6 month phase. I haven’t figured sizing yet so I’m hesitant to buy anything for the future. But I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it eventually.

    • I’ve never tried Facebook. Though I have browsed clothing lots on eBay. Have you actually bought anything from there?

      You probably hate mom advice, but I’m going to give it anyway šŸ˜‰ Keep the tags on everything. You never know how big your baby will be! Some are big but grow slow others are tiny and quickly outgrow everything! Don’t spend too much on the early sizes either. Many babies are in them a ridiculously short amount of time.

  2. I had to buy a few items for LB new from Carter’s recently. Sadly I missed the 75% off clearance. It was a sale but not as cheap as I would have hoped. It’s ridiculously easy to get sucked into the cute stuff!

    We have clothes from both genders and I noticed that some of the boy stuff is a little more pilled and some looks obviously worn but our hand me downs had already gone through two kids, whereas the girl stuff went through one. LB does fine with a mix and match but I also notice we do fine with one outfit change a day right now even though ze is incredibly active.

    • I’m always curious how gender differences influence shopping. Our oldest was always a neat little guy. He didn’t want to get messy and has primarily stayed that way. The youngest slobbers a lot more and makes a HUGE mess every time he eats a meal. It’s so bad I’m considering only feeding him without any clothes on! I bet his hand me downs will be more stained and worn from repeated washing. My oldest was like your child. Only one set of clothes per day. I had no idea how easy he was šŸ™‚


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