Online consignment is big business and a bargain hunter's heaven

Buying and selling used clothing is one of the hottest online trends with secondhand apparel estimated to be an $18 billion industry.

In a massive warehouse crammed with racks of used clothing, James Reinhart is a king of consignment, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports.

Reinhart’s company, thredUP, is selling more than 30,000 items of clothing every day.

“It’s the world’s largest online thrift store,” Reinhart said. “Tens of thousands of items in and out.”

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ThredUP receives bags of used clothing sent in from people across the country, about 100,000 items in a single day, and if it’s clean and in nearly new condition, it’s posted online at bargain prices.

“The pricing on thredUP is 80 percent off of what somebody would pay in a retail store. So, it’s even cheaper than the off-price stores. It’s incredible value,” Reinhart said.

When asked why somebody would part with clothing at what must be a massive discount, Reinhart explained, “Ultimately what they want is to get stuff out of their home and that’s really what our customer’s value, is the convenience.”

Sellers may not make much money but they do make room in their closets for more. Sarah Jane Brower is both a buyer and seller of clothes on thredUP.

“I’ve been a bargain shopper all my life and this is, like, the best way to be a bargain shopper and still get stuff that feels fresh, and new, and modern,” Brower said. 

There’s now a wide range of consignment sites and the competition has never been tighter. The RealReal targets the market’s high end. 

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Graham Wetzbarger leads a team of authenticators at The RealReal who make sure expensive handbags, watches and other designer items offered on the site are, indeed, real.

“This is an Hermes Birkin bag, so a piece like this would sell for around $38,000,” Wetzbarger said. He explained, “So, we know that this is genuine skin by the follicles and the pores of the markings.”

Julie Wainwright is the founder and CEO of The RealReal which receives about 150,000 items each month. 

“As a percent of our business, fashion apparel is bigger than handbags. And shoes! And shoes,” Wainwright said.

Much of the fashionable clothing that fills Wainwright’s warehouse has barely been worn, some even have their original store’s price tags.

Even those paying thousands for an authentic Swiss watch still like a bargain, and the internet has grown into a bargain hunter’s paradise. 

“Ebay is definitely the granddaddy of these online consignment shops. I think it made it fashionable and cool to sell your things online and it also made it very cool and fashionable to buy things that other people had owned before, online,” explained Charisse Jones, who is national business correspondent for USA Today.

Resale sites have succeeded partly by borrowing language from car salesmen.  Nothing in their overflowing warehouses is “used” it’s all just “pre-owned.”