09 March 2012

How To: Consignment Shop

I've been doing a lot of research lately on a few different projects (hence my absence), and I thought I could incorporate some of my research into a blog post that will come in handy for those of you unfamiliar with consignment shopping. There are droves of posts on how to shop for thrift and vintage, but seems to be a dirge of information on consignment. While thrift is usually (and you'll see later why I say usually) the least expensive option, consignment is where you get quality goods at reasonable prices, investment pieces so to speak. Ready to start?

I discovered consignment shops some years ago when the vintage craze had pretty much cleared the thrift stores. I was a business owner who while liked to mix my vintage with contemporary pieces was still looking for items with a bit more of a classic edge to mix in with my more quirky finds. I was trying to consume less, instead focusing on quality. Sometimes I got lucky at the sales, but one day I wandered into a consignment shop and that's when my love began. Nearly new Louboutins and Manolo's for $100 or less? Yes please! Of course that was some time ago and prices have risen as the costs of the original pieces have, but there are still amazing deals to be found -- some still with their tags on! Just like a thrift store, you really never know what you will come across, so it pays to keep an open mind.

Most people today are concerned with the "green" aspect of shopping, and consignment is yet another way you can keep green why enjoying some fabulous bargains in the process. However, since thrift shopping has become so "chic" prices have risen exorbitantly in many areas. I often find items on the "designer" rack that simply don't belong there (um since when is Dress Barn designer?) with a price tag to match. This makes thrift shopping not so thrifty anymore!

Do your homework. Some consignment shops will specialize in specific items such as only carry high-end designers. Others have a collection of mid- and high-range. And even others will carry all that plus pristine vintage! I'd suggest you take a day and go around to various consignment shops to see if they carry the types of items you're interested in. Another good reason for doing this is that when the time comes that you'd like to resell, you'll know the perfect outlet for your beloved clothing (more on consigning your clothes later.)

Once you've found a shop you love and feel has the types of clothing you're looking for, have a good long look and really spend time sorting through their offerings. Consignment shops are usually jammed with goodies so you do sometimes have to dig. However the proprietors do know their stock so don't be afraid to ask if they have something in particular that your looking for. Also, shop often as consignment shops get items in nearly every day. 

Many consignment shops also have "wish lists" and will notify you when items matching your wants come in. Definitely a more personalized service than thrift stores! Make sure to use those if you are looking for specific items since they do come in, I've been called many times to go check out something on my wish list.

Another thing I've noticed is that I find higher-end for better prices outside NYC. With high rents and overhead, NYC shops have to keep their prices in accordance (something I know all too well unfortunately), but outside the city prices come down as overhead isn't as high. This isn't to say you're going to pay rock bottom, but the prices will usually be a bit less than in NYC.

Another tip is to seek out consignment shops in better neighborhoods, as they tend to have better quality clothing. Prices may be higher, but expect to pay much less than the original price. You're also more likely to find things with the tags still on in these neighborhoods, at the very least worn maybe once.

A gentle reminder about haggling. Some consignment shops will leave a little wiggle room so that they can offer you a better price. But on a whole, its considered bad form to walk into any retail establishment and expect to haggle. Bergdorf's wouldn't take kindly to that kind of behavior and neither should a small business who has even more at stake. Flea markets are different, you are expected to haggle. At a flea market, prices are often (not always) negotiable, so it never hurts to ask, especially if you're purchasing multiple items. A flea market vendor often prices items so that they have the ability to offer you a better price, its an industry standard that has been in place for decades, possibly longer! The more you purchase at a flea market, the better your chances are for getting a great deal on pricing.

However, brick and mortar stores have a much higher overhead and to put it bluntly, they can't haggle with their landlords over the rent each month, so haggling is generally frowned upon. I don't know where the idea that haggling with struggling small businesses came about, but I can guarantee if you walked into any high-end shop, department store or chain and tried to haggle, they'd laugh you right out out of the door! Exceptions do exist, such as when an item is damaged, or perhaps the retailer has decided they've been "sitting" on an item too long and wish to move it out quickly. General rule of thumb is to always be polite, never, EVER insult the merchandise, and ask discreetly if they can do better on the price -- you might get lucky and take home a bargain! Rude behaviour never garners a good relationship with a shop, whether it be flea market, consignment shop, or small businesses.

All items accepted in consignment must be cleaned and pressed, or dry cleaned where necessary. So no worries about getting bedbugs from consignment stores!

Most consignment shops have a final sale policy so please do try things on to ensure they'll fit properly.

What can you expect to find in a consignment shop? Well as mentioned previously I've purchased nearly new Louboutins and Manolos, seen every high-end shoe line including Hermes, clothing I've seen has run the gamut from Dolce and Gabbana (I'm still pining over the leopard jacket I let go!) to Chanel and everything in-between! All at a fraction of their original prices. Gucci, Chanel, LV, YSL, handbags and accessories and jewelry to die for! They'll usually have a wide range of everything from clothing, shoes, handbags, and accessories to choose from so you can see why you'll have to take your time to take it all in! Another thing to keep in mind is to shop seasonally, most consignment shops accept only seasonal items so you won't find winter coats in the middle of summer. A good thing to remember is that thrift stores and flea markets are another place that don't often know how to spot counterfeit merchandise, whereas a consignment shop is well versed in how to spot the real deal and will always turn down the fakes. It's actually illegal in NY state to sell counterfeit goods and doing so can get a shop shut down. So they will inspect items very closely, and any additional tags or receipts you can provide will help move the process along quicker.

Don't misunderstand me, I've often found authentic designer items in thrift stores and flea markets (largely due to the fact that the staff doing the pricing isn't always knowledgable about every designer out there), but every single time I walk into a thrift shop I spot quite a bit of counterfeit handbags and shoes, priced as if they're authentic. When you try to educate them, often they will ignore you thinking you're trying to get a bargain, rather than listen to reason and price accordingly. Personally, I think donated counterfeit items should be put in a "free" box since they are illegal goods. Read the book "When Luxury Lost Its Lustre" to learn about what goes on in the counterfeit business as well as the damage it causes not only to the brand, but the illegal activities it advocates such as child labour and terrorist funding.

Many consignment shops now have select items online that you can reserve or even purchase. A quick look when you're looking for something specific may make your shopping even easier! A word of warning; please be conscientious and ask all questions before purchasing as I've found not all online consignment shops are very truthful in both their pricing and condition of the item. You can also consign items online, but be wary of that as well. As we speak I have a pending lawsuit against an online consignment shop that outright lied to me about the commission I was supposed to get, never got merchandise up in a timely manner, strung me along with promises that never came to fruition, returned my unsold items in used, unsaleable condition (after going "missing" for four months, and having been sent to them in pristine condition) as well as their lack of customer care when I finally received a check a year ago in the incorrect amount, which was returned to them outlining exactly what I was owed. They ignored both my letter, and the letter my lawyer sent, and a year and a half after they recieved my consignment items they have yet to make good on payment. This particular shop makes promises they never follow through on, and their consignment "agreement" is illegal as they claim once the item is in their possession, they have the right to do what they wish with it, including adding on cobblers charges to shoes that had been previously to my cobbler (who is actually a Cordwainer, and can create shoes and handbags to order) or cleaning charges to items that had also just been to the dry cleaner I use -- the very same dry cleaner that is used by those in show business that live in my area and are very fastidious about letting you know if a stain won't come out (they've always come through for me, sometimes on clothing that took a beating!) The items that were damaged happened in their possession (they were the items "lost" for four months) and had been worn either by staff or purchased, ruined and returned. The laws concerning consignment on behalf of the consignor are very specific, and even have a special branch of law that deals with it to protect the consignor because of these very reasons. The amount of money due me, plus my lawyer fees and interest are now so high I can't even take this to small claims court. So please learn from my very costly mistake.

The second conginment shop I am now having a problem with hasn't paid me since January 2011. I feel like my items are being held hostage. They've also continually lied, telling me they would be at the shop to make good, then don't show. They had a basement fire in March of last year and keep claiming that they can't reopen or even turn on their phones because the insurance company hasn't settled. Yet they've been making interest on all the items that sold before the fire, and not sent out one check to show good faith. When I had my business after 9/11 everything was basically shut because we were on a block with a police station across the street, closing the street to traffic, and often times stopping shoppers from walking down the street as a security measure. This went on for months. Yet even though we had little to no business going on, and weren't candidates for grants, we still had to pay our bills, employees and consignors were first, the rest got juggled until businesss regained some momentum. I have no idea how much is owed me as their website is also not working correctly, only spooradically making false announcements that they will be mailing checks immediately and/or will be at the shop for you to pick up payment and your items. So until I know what I'm owed I can't even go to small claims court, and they don't answer any of the letters sent to them by the Better Business Bureau or the Attorney General's office. Quite frustrating as I had a good relationship with the owner, and now feel like this is just one big game of rip off the consignor. Again, learn from my mistakes! At the very least I had asked to please have my items as I had buyers I could have sold to. This was last June, so again I'm not only owed money, but could have made money on the items they're holding hostage. This was a shop I had previously given a glowing review to, now wouldn't consign a pair of dirty socks with them!

Now on to what I've learned consigning your precious items.

Always call and ask in advance if you need an appointment to bring things by. Many consignment shops only accept items on certain days. Also ask if they have a limit as to how many things you can bring at once and what season they are currently accepting. Be sure to ask what their consignment split is as it varies from shop to shop, usually you get 40% to 50% of the selling price. Its also wise to ask if they're negotiable on pricing. Some have set guidelines and are not, others are more flexible.

When bringing in your items, make sure they are in pristine, cleaned and pressed or dry cleaned condition. They will not be accepted otherwise. Part of the prestige of consignment is that you are not only getting top quality goods, but also in top quality condition. No holes, missing buttons, droopy linings, etc.!

Once there, they will sort through your items and choose what is right for their stock and clientele. Don't be insulted if they don't choose everything, it simply means it doesn't fit with their stock. You can always take it to another consignment shop who may be thrilled to have it!

Also make sure to ask how long the item can stay in stock. Its up to you to keep up with this, as many consignment shops do markdowns (another perk for finding a deal!) after a certain period of time, and uncollected goods go straight to charity. So if you want your items back make sure to mark on your calendar when you'll have to pick them up.

Here are a few of my favorite consignment shops found throughout Westchester. There are many more but these are the ones I frequent most.

I hope this helped to open the world of consignment to you and that you do give it a try when looking for better quality and special items. Do let me know in the comments if you have any favorite consignment shops as I'm always on the lookout for new places to explore!

PS I've just found the fire department report for the consignment shop that had the fire: apparently the fire was caused by clothing too close to a space heater (very smart, duh), the fire was put out with minimal water, however there was heat damage throughout the facility. In addition, had the fire gone undetected for just a short time longer, the building would have been lost. So now add to the list the possibility of fire damage or smoke damage to my things. Ugh. Please learn from my mistakes!


  1. I think that you know all of my favorite places. Thanks fo ran interesting post and can't wait to check out these with you next time that I'm in town!

    1. Oh yes, so fun going round your favs! Def I'll take you to the others when you're here next... miss you already!

  2. A fast look when you're looking for something particular may create your shopping even easier.


  3. It's good to have a wish-list and pop in occasionally - I think you can even find great basics, and anyone with a bit of vintage shopping discipline can find really good deals!

    1. Having a wish list is a great idea, keeps you from going overboard or purchasing doubles (or triples!) But its also good to keep an open mind since you'll never know what turns up! Thanks for stopping by and commenting! XXX Suzanne


  4. Great post. Your site is quite interesting and very well written. I am waiting for your next post

    Kids Consignment Omaha


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