Difference Between Consignment Shops and Thrift Stores

What is the difference between consignment shops and thrift stores? Most people confuse these two types of stores mainly because they both specialize in secondhand goods. People may also think that the only difference between consignment shops and thrift stores is that while thrift stores operate as non-profit or charity-based enterprises, consignment shops are for-profit. While this is true, the differences are more complex than that. So, let's begin by making one thing clear once and for all.

Consignment Stores Are Not Thrift Stores

Consignment store vs thrift store

The key difference between consignment shops and thrift stores is that thrift stores usually stock their shelves with secondhand items that have been donated to the store, whereas consignment stores sell secondhand items on behalf of the original owner, who then receives a share of the sale price when a customer later buys the item.  

In other words, consignment stores act as a middleman – taking unwanted clothes and other items from the owner and displaying them in store for sale. If the goods end up being purchased by a customer, the consignment shop then keeps a percentage of the profit for itself and passes the remaining profit onto the original owner. This model financially benefits both the seller and the consignment shop – the core aim being for both parties to make money from secondhand goods together. If an item doesn't sell, the original owner can usually return to the consignment store and collect it again for no charge.

Thrift stores, meanwhile, accept clothing and other items from people who simply want to give them away. In other words, thrift stores accept donations and do not pay the original owner anything for the goods they receive. The thrift store then sells the donated items, and the profits tend to go to a named charity or other non-profit organization.

Let's summarize the key thrift store vs consignment shop differences. The following are the main features that distinguish consignment shops and thrift stores:

  • In consignment shops, item owners consign their goods to the shop for a specific time and receive part of the profits if and when the items are sold. In thrift stores, donated items stay in stock until they are sold, and the person who donated the items does not receive any money in exchange for them.
  • The items you find in a thrift store are often sold in the same condition as when they were donated. This means that the types of items you find in a thrift store, as well as their quality and price, are usually quite contrasting with those you find in a consignment shop. By nature of the donation-based model, thrift shops tend to stock primarily modestly priced goods of varying quality. By contrast, consignment shops often carry higher-quality and higher-priced items – some even specialize in high-end or brand-name merchandise and designer clothing.
  • In the consignment shop model, ownership of consigned items remains with the consignor until those items are sold. In the thrift shop model, ownership of donated items is immediately transferred to the thrift shop when the donation is made.
  • Consignment shops are generally more expensive than thrifts. This is partly because the quality of items tends to be higher, so their value is greater – and also because the consignor will take home a portion of the sale price, which affects the consignment store's profits. With thrift stores, all profits go to the store itself, which are then usually passed on to a charitable cause.
  • People who want quick cash tend to prefer selling things on consignment because it is easier and faster. In contrast, rather than receiving cash in hand directly, people who give items away to charity organizations can obtain a receipt for the donation from the thrift store. This receipt can then be used to claim for personal tax deductions.

lamps and statues on consignment

Different Sources of Inventory: Thrift store vs Consignment Shop

Let's now examine consignment vs thrift with specific attention paid to where each type of business sources its inventory.

A consignment store typically sources inventory from the following:

  • Members of the public who consign their wares to the shop for sale
  • A manufacturer or retail business that's looking for an additional channel to sell their items

A thrift shop typically sources inventory from:

  • Donors who give away their used clothing, books, household goods, etc., with no expectation of getting any money back for them
  • A few types of thrift stores may buy in merchandise, but most rely solely on donated items so they can pass all profits onto charity organizations or other non-profit groups under which they operate
  • People and organizations looking for tax deductions for charitable donations

Quality of Goods in Thrift and Consignment Stores

With consignment stores, there are strict measures applied and thorough inspections conducted before goods are accepted. In some cases, the consignment store will request JPEG images to ascertain the item's quality or request the consignor drop off the goods for inspection before the store agrees to sell the merchandise on the consignor's behalf.  

If you are looking to buy high-value, well-maintained items at a bargain, your best bet is a consignment store because they guarantee high-quality and "house ready" items that do not need repair once bought. 

However, if you're not concerned with high quality, then thrift shops are a suitable option. The downside to thrift store shopping is that the items you purchase will likely need cleaning or repairs before use, which may translate to additional spending.  

Ultimately, the condition and quality of items is generally much higher in consignment stores because they undergo a rigorous inspection and selection process before being put on the shelf for sale. Indeed, consignment store items are thoroughly cleaned and cared for before sale and, in many cases, can be just like new.

Price of Goods in Thrift and Consignment Store

The price of goods at a thrift & consignment store will depend on several factors, such as:

  • The quality of the goods brought to the store. The quality of your items affects pricing, so the best practice is to only sell high-quality goods through a consignment store. On the other hand, thrift shops are less scrupulous about quality, and so prices tend to be lower.
  • Reports from the consignment store's appraisers. A good consignment store works with accredited appraisers to set prices. This ensures items are not priced out of the average market rates.
  • The location of each consignment shop or thrift store also affects pricing due to the utility costs involved in running the stores. In addition, factors such as the store's rent, electricity, and tax obligations affect the final prices displayed for potential buyers.
  • Target customers: The target market affects how items are priced in consignment stores. For example, if a store wants to sell upmarket items to upmarket customers, prices will tend to be higher than in stores that want to target bargain hunters.

In Summary

So, should you go to a consignment shop or thrift store with your no-longer-needed items?

Well, provided your goods are in a saleable condition, it's hard to beat the benefits of choosing a consignment shop.

A consignment store's primary objective is to give value back to people who want to resell their goods, so you can rest assured your personal, pre-loved items are in safe hands. More to the point, the biggest benefit of selling your secondhand clothing and other goods through a consignment store is that you can make money.

On the other hand, Thrift stores offer no compensation for donated items (other than a receipt for a possible tax deduction that may be worth a few dollars at most).

With consignment stores, you receive hard cash in exchange for your items – and the stores work hard on your behalf to sell them at the best possible price. You get to keep 60% of the sale price when selling through a good consignment shop, so it's a win-win solution for both parties.

To get started with consigning, check out our detailed page for more information on how we can assist.