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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Insider shopping tips: op/thrift stores

A couple of days ago, The Bargain Queen talked about how to get great insider shopping info, to help you find the best bargains. Today, The Bargain Queen shares some of her best tips for shopping in op shops (which are called thrift stores in America).

The Bargain Queen volunteers in one of her local op shops occasionally, and always comes home with some great finds she's unearthed while helping around the store. She's also seen the best and worst shopping techniques in action, and watched one shopper go home thrilled while another gets cranky.

If you're not a regular op shopper already, they're a great place to find cheap clothes, accessories, furniture, homewares, books, craft supplies and all sorts of other things. Two big chains that operate in both Australia and America are The Salvation Army and Goodwill - look in the phone book to find your local ones. Just be prepared to look through a lot of, erm, interesting items to find the great stuff. If you view it as a treasure hunt, it's a lot of fun... but it's still a lot more work than going to the mall. So what's the incentive? Fanastic bargains! (The Bargain Queen's going to show off her latest haul in a couple of days, so y'all come back now :)

Here's how to get the best op shop deals:
  • Shop on a weekday. Op shops are usually packed on weekends, so often the great bargains sell out early. Plus the staff are so busy they don't put anything new on the shelves, meaning stock can be seriously depleted by the end of the day.
  • Find out how the store is re-stocked. Some stores get their stock entirely from over-the-counter donations (i.e. things that are brought into the store). Other stores, usually in big chains like Salvation Army and Goodwill, get all their stock from a central warehouse, and anything that comes into the store is sent there to be sorted and priced. Some stores use a combination of both methods. The best way to find out how your favourite op shops are re-stocked is to volunteer occasionally. If you really don't have time, try chatting with the staff next time you're there shopping and see if you can find out.
  • Come in on re-stocking days. Stores that sell over-the-counter donations often have the best stock early Monday morning, because Saturday is the busiest donation day. Customers who work during the week bring in bags of stuff, but the store is so busy that it's not put out until Monday. If stock comes from a central warehouse, there's usually one drop a week and the best selection of stock is available on that day and the day afterwards (as it takes a little while to shelve it all). Wednesday is a common day for drops but it varies between chains and stores, so it's best to check with the individual store. Again, volunteers find this out very easily, or you can ask the staff.
  • Don't leave things in changerooms. If you want to make yourself popular, re-shelve anything you don't want! The majority of op shop staff are volunteers who often work very hard sorting stock, cleaning and fixing things for sale, making the store look nice and dealing with the occasional crazy customer. The last thing volunteers want when they're trying to make 1,000 books with broken spines look attractive, is to get up after every customer comes in and re-shelve unwanted clothes. If you want to be waited on, go to the mall and pay retail - you can't expect that level of service from volunteers. You won't be kicked out of the store for making more work for the staff, but you won't get information or discounts either.
  • Be super-polite. Believe it or not, a lot of op shop customers are really rude! Sometimes they're mentally ill or disabled and don't know any better; sometimes they're anti-social; and sometimes they think it's OK to look down on volunteers who handle used underwear and serve crazies all day. If you're one of the polite, pleasant customers, the staff really notice. The Bargain Queen is always nice to op shop staff and apart from being the right thing to do, it has gotten her many discounts and freebies.
  • Don't ask for discounts. Most things are so cheap in op shops already that asking for a discount just makes you look like a scumbag. If you really are so poor you can't afford a $4 top, many charity-run op shops will give you clothes, furniture and/or food for free, which is worth keeping in mind if you're ever seriously down and out. The rest of the time, please remember that the money you spend is helping a charity and just pay what they ask.
  • Do let them know if the pricing is wrong. Generally, haggling in charity stores is just wrong, but it is OK if you think they've got the pricing wrong - just remember to be super-polite. Everyone makes mistakes occasionally. Here's the three circumstances The Bargain Queen has when it's ok to ask for a discount:
    1. You spot something great in a store, but the price tag looks WAY high. You come back a month or so later and it's still there - the price is so high it hasn't sold. In this case, you can politely ask the manager: "I notice this has been in stock for a while and I think the price is a bit high. Would you accept $X for it?".
    2. There's no price on an item you'd really like it. You take it to the counter to ask how much and they tell you an amount you think is over the top. Sometimes, especially if you're well-dressed, you've been mistaken for a dealer and given an inflated price. Gently letting the staff member know you're not will sometimes get the price lowered. For example: "Oh, I'm just student, I can't afford that!". Just be honest - if you are a dealer, or as well-off as you look, give the charity the money already.
    3. You find a damaged item that's been priced the same as similar undamaged items. If you point this out to a staff member, sometimes you'll get a small discount.
    Please use all these methods sparingly though. Cutting into a charity's funds for your own gain does not make you a Bargain Queen!
Rebecca helpfully reminded The Bargain Queen of something she'd forgotten (oops!):
  • Op shops / thrift stores have sales too. In Rebecca's area, The Salvation Army stores mark things down on Thursdays. Where The Bargain Queen lives, the sales are more random (the store managers have discretion over what sales they hold and when), so it's best to ring the store and find out. Usually stock that's been in the store more than a month will be half price (they'll all have a particular tag colour), but there'll also sometimes be 'fill a bag for $10' days, which are brilliant!
So we've talked about how to get the best deals at op shops. Stay tuned for info on how to get the best retail and discount outlet deals!

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  • At 3:23 am, Blogger Rebecca said…

    I would only add a couple of things: If I can't get there right when they open, I always check the fitting rooms and hang-back bars. Just this week, while waiting for a friend who was trying on, I noticed a sweater hanging on someone's cart. Sure enough they hung it on the put-back rack and I snagged it. $1 American!

    Most of the thrift stores here have days when they run a certain color tag at a super-low price. On Thursdays, the Salvation Army has a tag for 10 cents. It pays to learn the routine.

  • At 11:21 am, Blogger The Bargain Queen said…

    Thanks! I'd forgotten about the sales that they have. I've updated the post with an extra hint :)


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