The seasonal closet clean-out -- in with sweaters and boots, out with summer attire -- is turning into a potential moneymaker for consumers.
Web marketplaces for secondhand clothes have been multiplying, with recent entrants including Tradesy.com, 99Dresses, ThreadFlip, Material Wrld, The Cools and iPhone app-based Poshmark.
Each site differs in its fashion vision. Some accept only pieces from big-name designers, and a few open their doors to let consignment shops and other retailers sell, too. But the underlying premise is the same. Users snap a picture of their unwanted item and create a simple listing, and then ship the item when it sells. Payment follows.
"Your closet becomes your store," says Linda Arroz, a co-author of "Affordable Couture." But there are limits: Sites only want items in good condition. Moth-eaten blazers, pilled sweaters and the like won't be accepted.
Experts say the proliferation of these sites is a reflection of the still-struggling economy. "Apparel spending has been topsy-turvy. One month it's up, the next month it's down," says Pam Danziger, the president of Unity Marketing, a luxury-market research firm. Clothing marketplaces can help consumers monetize the things they're no longer wearing, she says.
They can be a boon for bargain hunters, too. The idea of "shopping your closet" for outfits instead of hitting the store is popular when money is tight, and the social setup lets people effectively shop other users' closets at a steep discount, says Michelle Madhok, the founder of fashion sale-tracker SheFinds.com.
At first glance, the sites can seem like a smart option for consumers looking to sell items from higher-end brands. Most boast that they're easier than eBay, with a simple fee structure and a fast listing process that takes just a minute or two and can often be done via smartphone. They're also cheaper than in-store consignment, where the store's cut can be 40% to 60%, says Arroz.
Material Wrld and The Cools, for example, both charge sellers a 15% commission, while Poshmark takes 20%. Listing an item is free. Most sites also cover shipping charges. Plus, unlike consignment, sites usually let you hang on to items (and continue wearing them) until they sell, Arroz says.
Or, rather, if they sell. With so many new sites in competition, it can be tough to gauge how active their user base actually is -- and in any case, it's definitely smaller than eBay. "You want to make sure they have enough audience to sell your clothes," Madhok says. She suggests would-be sellers review the site for a few days to see what's listed and how much inventory changes from visit to visit. Turnover indicates people are actually using the site.
It's also worth assessing which marketplace has other users with similar taste in brands and styles, which increases the chances an item will sell. Some sites also clean up user-submitted photos, which can help showcase an item's appeal, Arroz says.
On the buying side, shoppers searching secondhand sites for bargains should look at policies on returns before buying. In addition to concerns about items that don't fit or are damaged, counterfeits could be a problem, says Alina Halloran, a vice president of online brand protection for security firm OpSec. "If an item is in demand and there's a reasonable value attached to it, it's absolutely targeted," she says.
Halloran suggests perusing the seller's other listings. The risk of fakes is higher if the seller is hawking a wide range of items and sizes, indicating they didn't all come from his or her closet. If there's feedback available from previous buyers, check that, too.
The sites say that their return policies are generous and that they aim to keep counterfeits off the sale rack through staff reviews of items. "In 99% of cases, we're able to prevent those items from ever making it on the site," says Tracy DiNunzio, the chief executive of Tradesy. The site accepts returns from buyers for any reason, offering either store credit (say, if the buyer just changed her mind) or cash (if the seller misrepresented an item).