Walk down any high street and you’ll see evidence of one of the growing trends in retail – the rise of the thrift store.

The popularity of thrift stores is the result of several consumer trends converging: the need for affordability; the desire to engage with purpose-led businesses; a move away from mass production and the appeal of the unique; and a strong environmental awareness and desire to be more sustainable.

  • Case study

Land of Lincoln Goodwill Industries forays into 21st century retail with iVend Retail

Read about how a leading US thrift store is embracing its growing popularity
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The clothing resale market alone is estimated to be worth US$30-40bn, with annual growth of 15-20% per annum from 2020-2024, according to the Boston Consulting Group. Their recent survey of 7000 shoppers in six countries showed that sustainability was the biggest factor behind the growth, with 70% citing it as the top reason for buying pre-worn clothing.

All of which means that the thrift store has well and truly come into the retail mainstream.

Organisations are running multi-store networks, have warehouses full of inventory and need to offer the convenience of online as well as in-store shopping. The rapid growth of the sector means more competition, making it essential to offer a positive customer experience, loyalty, and personalised promotion programs to woo shoppers who now have a wider than ever range of thrift shopping options.

The need for retail technology

For many thrift stores, being in the shopping spotlight has highlighted a need for more effective retail technology. In particular, the thrift stores we’ve talked to have identified issues with:

  • Inventory visibility – a thrift store’s inventory is in the form of donations, rather than stock from manufacturers. It can’t be forecasted, and every item is unique. Which makes goods receipt and inventory counting difficult. But stores understand that in order to track performance, and to sell online, they have full inventory visibility.
  • Sales tracking – along with inventory visibility to track goods in, the other side of the performance coin is to be able to track goods out, to understand and manage revenue. Stores need to capture their sales figures, by category, by store, online or offline.
  • Multi-store management – head office needs visibility of across all stores, with a consolidated picture of all data.
  • Data driven decisions – stores need to understand what sells where – online and in brick and mortar stores – so that they can move the appropriate stock to the right channel.
  • Low touch shopping – like every other form of retail, thrift stores recognise that customers want convenient, safe shopping channels, including contactless payment, BOPIS/click and collect and curbside pickup.
  • Customer experience – greater competition mean that thrift stores need to treat their customers like gold, offering them everything they’ve come to expect from mainstream retailers, including online shopping, loyalty programs, personalised marketing promotions and iPad POS for queue busting.

Digital transformation for thrift stores

These imperatives are driving many thrift stores to digital transformation programs – looking at how they can harness the power of technology to give them the control, the visibility, and the decision-making capability they need to stay on top of the rising wave that is the thrift shopping sector.

They’re implementing powerful inventory management software to keep track of donations and give them complete inventory visibility of everything they have available to sell – online and in the brick and mortar store.

Online offline POS systems capture all sales data and have it instantly visible at head office and provide a consistent customer experience. iPad POS systems enable better customer service, with checkout anywhere in store, and low touch options such as curbside pickup for online purchases.

Many thrift stores are embracing digital commerce and offering shoppers the option of online purchases. Loyalty programs help them tie together the customer data from online and brick and mortar to give them insights about preferences and shopping patterns, which they then use to develop personalised smart marketing.

Behind the scenes, the store systems are integrated with accounting and financial systems for full and accurate reporting without the need for data re-entry. Management dashboards present retail analytics in a way that allows effective decision making.

An example of a thrift store that saw the need for digital transformation and is now reaping the benefits is Land of Lincoln Goodwill Industries. They operate 15 stores across 37 US counties and realised that they needed tighter multi-store management and a more engaging customer experience. Read about how they achieve it here.

The rise of the thrift store looks set to continue as shoppers continue to value low prices, uniqueness, community giving and above all, sustainability. The drive towards digital transformation is accelerating, as stores see it as an absolute necessity if they are to compete and thrive in this rapidly growing sector.

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