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Lately, there’s been lots of griping on social media about rising prices at thrift stores. Goodwill in particular has taken a beating.
In one viral TikTok video, a woman who goes by @beccaboomm leads the viewer around the store, pointing out ridiculously overpriced Goodwill items.
“Goodwill is tripping lately,” she says, and we definitely agree when she shows us a new-with-tags tank top whose list price was $2.98. But Goodwill has affixed its own price — of $4.98.
Another TikTok shopper is horrified to find a pair of jean shorts with a $7.99 clearance tag from Ross, but Goodwill has priced them at $8.99. And on Reddit, shoppers come together to comment on the high prices they’ve found.
Several news articles have chronicled this rising price trend, detailing complaints of shoppers who used to find $2 shirts at Goodwill and now are paying three or four times that much.
So, has Goodwill raised its prices? Not as a whole, says Bill Parrish, senior consultant in donated goods retail for Goodwill Industries International. He told the Wall Street Journal that individual store operators price items as they see fit. But he did say that each store owner adjusts the pricing periodically “to ensure that they are in line with the value of the category of items provided.”
Potential Reasons for Price Increases
Prices may have risen at local levels, though, and industry experts have their own explanations.
“The cost of operations — including rent, utilities and wages — has increased over time,” Casey Jones, founder and head of marketing and finance at Australian digital marketing company CJ&CO, told Yahoo Finance. He also mentioned that “the demand for thrifted items has grown … which can drive up prices.”
In fact, that last reason is the one most experts have seized upon. Ironically, TikTok itself is part of the problem. A glut of young (mostly Gen Z) shoppers have taken to social media to show off their thrift store hauls for scores of followers. Many of these thrifters buy cheap clothes to resell at higher prices on sites like DePop, ThredUp and Poshmark. For a few years now, they’ve been buying up lots of inventory and making a profit for themselves.
And some industry analysts suggest that Goodwill has caught wind of this phenomenon and is stepping in to recoup some of that lucrative yield.
In this video, which is fairly typical of the clips that young shoppers post, @courtneyjthrifts introduces herself as a full-time reseller who’s taking the viewer thrifting with her. But though she’s clearly been doing this for a while (and made many such videos) even this intrepid capitalist is starting to see Goodwill cut into her profits.
@courtjthrifts Come thrifting with me at Goodwill! Lets see what we can find to resell😉 #thrifting #thriftfinds #thriftwithme #shopsecondhand #resellercommunity #reseller #haul
She complains that this Goodwill “is getting outrageous, so I don’t buy much.” But she nabbed one pair of jeans with a reduced price tag that she thought “could get enough for them to make them worthwhile” — and found some other items at reduced prices as well.
My Goodwill Experience
As a thrift shopper myself, I’ve read these accounts and nodded along at the rising prices. But in my own experience, local consignment shops like Uptown Cheapskate and Plato’s Closet are the stores with creeping prices. I hadn’t noticed the trend at Goodwill.
That said, shoppers like @beccaboomm are clearly experiencing sticker shock at Goodwill. So I wondered, is my local Goodwill “tripping lately”?
I dropped in over Labor Day weekend to sample the merchandise. And I did find a number of items that were certainly overpriced, compared to how much I could buy them new elsewhere.
Earlier that morning, I’d been shopping the Labor Day weekend sales event at Target. I tend to stock up on new T-shirts during sales events like these, and Target was selling its Universal Threads V-Neck for $8, in a range of colors and sizes.
When I arrived at Goodwill, I saw the same Universal Threads T-shirt in white, size medium, selling for $6.24. This was a better price than buying it new at Target — but not by much. And even if the shirt wasn’t on sale at Target, the regular price was just $10. Why would I want to buy this shirt that definitely looked worn?
I also saw an Old Navy long-sleeved, waffle knit shirt at Goodwill for $6.24. It had some wear left in it and was a decent purchase for the price. But I took a quick look online and found a similar long-sleeved waffle knit shirt on Amazon in a range of colors and sizes for $9.99 (just $3.74 more), plus free shipping for Prime members. I could get it brand new and in the color and size of my choice.
In another area of the store, I came across some 100-sheet composition notebooks, which were being sold for $1.09. At this time of year, they are selling at Office Depot and Walmart for 50 cents each.
And as I wandered down the home goods aisle, I spotted a plain white throw pillow selling for $5. A quick check of Amazon told me that I could get a set of two plain white throw pillows of the same size for $9.99. In other words, I could buy it for the same exact price — but new.
That said, I do feel the need to defend Goodwill — at least my Goodwill. As I checked the prices on various items, it became increasingly clear that someone had been told to slap the same price on all the shirts. For some of the shirts, $6.24 was a great deal; for others, it was a rip-off. The same rule applied to all the departments. The throw pillows, for example, were uniformly $5. Maybe the plain white ones weren’t a steal at that price, but I’m sure some of the fancier ones were.
At this Goodwill location, I don’t think there’s a nefarious plan to make it harder for customers to find good thrifting deals. They’re moving a lot of merchandise, and they’re busy with intake, sorting and maintaining the inventory. So, probably to save time, they appear to price all items in a certain category the same.
Another dynamic at play is the rise of fast fashion (and other “fast” industries, like fast furniture). You can go to Shein or Temu and buy plenty of items online for very low prices. A $6 shirt at Goodwill doesn’t seem like the deal it used to be.
Still, if you’re up for a treasure hunt, there are still gems to be found at Goodwill. During this same shopping trip, I came across three pairs of like-new Chico’s sandals for $5.99 each. While they’re no longer being sold at Chico’s, the original price was certainly at least $30 each, based on that store’s past pricing data. And don’t forget, the money Goodwill collects goes to good causes.
And as the TikTok complaints rack up, perhaps business at the more expensive Goodwill stores will start to slow — bringing prices back down again.