12 Ways to be a Smart and Decent Shopper at the Thrift Store

thrift2Ah, Macklemore makes it sound like so much fun, doesn’t he? Yeah. Thrift Shops are fun to shop at, but often miserable to work for. And I’m not referring to dealing with the management side. Easily 50% of the customer base is completely ignorant of the place and how it works. This causes some trouble. And a yet smaller percentage are downright assholes. They make the biggest noise, and the biggest impression. And it’s that smaller percentage who make life truly miserable for those of us who work there.

So I present the following as Mad Margaret’s Consumer Information Guide to Shopping and Donating at your Local Thrift Store; aka, Don’t be a Dick.

notgar1. The Thrift Store is a retail store, not a yard or garage sale. If you want garage sale prices, go to a garage sale. Yes, the items are donated, but they are given to us with the understanding that we will sell them and the money will go toward our charity. We don’t dicker on prices (just like any retail store). Bills need to be paid and quotas must be met (yes! We have quotas and they go up every year!). The charities that the store supports have to have enough funding to continue functioning. And the store itself needs income to function. You have bills, we have bills. You couldn’t support yourself on garage sale prices any more than we could. Our prices are set by our headquarters; we price according to their instructions. We don’t just make this stuff up. So when you see a tee shirt on sale for $2.99, please don’t complain to me, and remember that the money is going toward a good cause. Don’t like it? Go find a yard sale. Simple.

thrift102. Employees are not volunteers, nor are we your personal servants. We will be polite. We will smile. We will help. We will offer dolly carts and other means of carrying stuff. But we don’t load your furniture purchases because of insurance reasons (there are signs everywhere that state this, but people don’t read them) so bring a friend if you can’t move that massive sofa by yourself. Almost every employee, except management works part time and gets paid peanuts. I earn about 50 cents more an hour than I did two years ago — just above $8.00 an hour now, just above minimum wage. We do not have cushy jobs. We earn no sick leave, no health or any other kinds of benefits. And as thanks for our efforts, we can be fired at any time for virtually any reason. We all work very hard for our meager peanuts — I earn a grand total of about $125 a week after taxes — and during our 4-hour shifts, we have dozens of tasks to accomplish. If we are unable to get our daily work done (and most have to bust ass to accomplish that), we’ll get fired. I myself have to price about 2500 items in 4 hours. Every time I get pulled away because a customer is being a bonehead, it kills my numbers. So please don’t treat employees like they’re your personal servants. We’re just hard working people like you.

donation-box3. When donating, please place the stuff where we ask you to. This makes me really, truly crazy. If we say “Please put your donations in that pile to the left” when you walk in, please put the in the pile to the left which is literally two feet from the entry. Don’t drop them in front of the door or block the entry in any way. Every single day, I deal with people who donate by opening the door and drop their bags where they stand. When did this become the norm? It’s insane!! Also, don’t walk in and drop the donations in the middle of the production floor then wave your hand while instructing me to put them wherever I want. Oh… tell me that and I’ll stick them exactly where I want them!

boxesmore5. Donate it as if you care about it, but not everything you donate is a million dollar treasure. Put your items in an appropriate container and wrap delicates. We don’t always keep most donations in our store. In fact, the vast majority go to our local donation center an hour away — they examine the items and send them back out to the network of stores according to what the stores need. Improperly packed items won’t make the trip and we do not have time to repack your stuff. Trust me on this. Don’t drop off a plastic Walmart bag full of glassware and announce to me to be careful because they’re loose and need special handling. That bag of ‘delicate’ glass won’t make it. We will likely just throw it out rather than cut ourselves on the inevitably broken glass inside. If you’re donating delicate items, please WRAP them so they won’t break and put it in a box as if you were moving. The better it’s packed, the more likely it is to survive the donation process. And as far as the value of each item, I’ve seen people’s donation lists, and despite the fact that we hand out our official valuation guides, I consistently see ridiculous self-declared values. I’m telling you, the IRS isn’t going to think that used tee shirt you just donated is worth $500 (more like $5). And items that are broken, stained, torn, or need repair? Just throw them away please. Most go in our trash and ends up costing us money instead of making money for the charity. We don’t handle garbage.

thrift6. We don’t negotiate prices. It’s true that some places do this, but we do not — and for God’s sake, don’t yell at us if we can’t negotiate. Again, we are a retail store, not a garage sale. On rare (very, very rare) occasions, we will make exceptions, but by and large the answer will always be no. We do our best to price things as accurately as we can based on what we’re told to sell it for and what’s sold previously. It’s been my experience that most people who get mad because we won’t go down on the prices are dealers who are simply trying to maximize their profits. Speaking of which…

thrift37. We don’t care if you’re a dealer, but please don’t be an asshole about it. Showoffs suck. Be humble and get your deals quietly. Some customers are upfront about being a dealer and they smile, are friendly, and follow the rules. It’s the rest that are thorns in my side. Some want VIP treatment just because they’re dealers (i.e. want to cut in line, get special deals, etc.). Then there’s the number of dealers who come in and pull out their loupes while they hog and scrutinize each piece of jewelry from the rest of the customers, then complain when a gorgeous 14k gold bracelet is $25.00 instead of 99 cents — when we all know that bracelet is about to be sold for $200 downtown — really piss me off. Or the ones that have their camera phones out to query their partners as to whether or not this Kate Spade bag is genuine and worth the $3.50 or not — they absolutely infuriate me. And please don’t boast about that $500 jacket you got for $5 — thanks for gloating, nincompoop — that just ensures you’ll never see that deal ever again. In fact, the dealers are the first ones to get mad when we “get smart” on such items and start charging more. So honestly, we don’t care if you’re a dealer; just don’t be a dick.

thrift78. We are not babysitters. If you’re going to bring your kids to our store — and we do encourage a family atmosphere — please keep an eye on them. The toy section is not your kid’s personal destruction zone. Those toys are for sale, not for playing with. Gentle play is okay, but please have them put back the toys when they’re done. If your kid begins destroying our store, or are loud, rude, and obnoxious, we will come looking for you — and if we can’t find you, we’re going to toss your kid out of the toy section and send him/her back to you, probably crying, because we were “mean” and ruined little Johnny’s “fun”. Also, keep your kid from standing up in the carts. About a month ago, a kid stood up and fell out of the cart and hurt himself because some buttmunch parent didn’t want to follow directions. Keep your kids safe and near you, not out on their own where trouble can be found.

doody9. We are not your personal bathroom. We have one customer bathroom and it’s always busy. Sorry if that’s disappointing, but we are a store, not a bathroom. If the customer bathroom is occupied, no, you can’t use the employee bathroom. Wanna know why? Partly insurance reasons. But mostly, it’s because of troublemakers like the Mystery Pooper for one, who liked to poop on the floor and/or smear it on the walls but has now moved along to kid’s playgrounds. There’s also The Urinator who pees in the flower vases or sinks — wherever he pleases, really. Each likes to ‘leave their marks’ both in the customer and employee bathrooms and we have to draw the line somewhere. Also, please don’t urinate in other parts of the store (i.e. dressing rooms, corners, etc.). And please don’t pull out your used tampon and leave it in the lingerie section ever again. I seriously do NOT get paid enough to deal with any of this. True stories all. No foolin’. Really really.

thrift510. Treat our store with respect. Also known as, don’t be a pig. Drop a piece of clothing while you’re looking through a rack? Please pick it up. Seems like common sense, right? Tell me about it. We do not have people who specifically clean up after you, so it falls on some other employee to fix your mess. If you use the dressing rooms, please follow instructions and hang the clothes outside the rooms on the racks provided — not crumpled into a ball on the floor. If you bring in your coffee (which you know you’re not supposed to because of all the signs everywhere that say ‘no food nor drink’) and you happen to spill it (naughty, naughty!), please tell someone so it can be cleaned up. We had this happen a week ago and the perpetrator said nothing while another customer slipped and fell in the mess.

thrift811. It should go without saying, but for chrissakes, don’t steal our stuff. Come ON. Donation bins are not free piles. Don’t “pop” tags, switch tags, peel off stickers, or take items into the dressing rooms so you can more easily camouflage your theft. People that pop tags and come to me to reprice something will find that A) it gets tagged with a non-sale sticker; and B) the price will be more than it was before. Because this stealing nonsense has become such a major problem, we now have cameras and if given to suspicion, we will check them and prosecute if we find you stealing shit. Now, come on… You wanna have your name in the paper because you went to jail for stealing from a THRIFT STORE? Is that really what you want your friends and family to know? If you are poor and really need something, put in for a voucher for free stuff — the store can do that — but if you’re just being an asshole, please be my guest and get bent.

thrift912. Employees can be jerks too, but that doesn’t mean you have to be. Our people are overworked and underpaid so sometimes problems arise. If you have a problem, for instance, with a cashier who you think was rude to you, bring it to the attention of management. Don’t start screaming at the employee, causing a scene, or trying to start a riot in the store because you feel you were slighted. Things should never come to blows (but they have in the past). Sometimes new employees think they’re God’s Gift and act like jerks — this must be reported, of course. But other times, an employee is having a bad day and says something inadvertently rude — more often than not, it’s the result of some kind of misunderstanding. For instance, if a cashier is simply enforcing store policy (telling a customer they can’t cut in line, for instance), that customer might become infuriated and demand justice. Customer should ask for management and discuss the situation — calmly — with them. If the employee is in the wrong, trust me, they’ll be read the riot act and get their come-uppance.

Macklemore would be proud.

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“I’m gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket
I – I – I’m-a huntin’, looking for a come-up
This is f****ng awesome!
– Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, “Thrift Shop”

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About madmargaret

Designer, thrift store pricer, Mac nerd, medical 'genius', recovering addict, singer, ex-actor, and all-around swell egg. Really!
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3 Responses to 12 Ways to be a Smart and Decent Shopper at the Thrift Store

  1. Pingback: 12 Ways to be a Smart and Decent Shopper at the Thrift Store ... | SmartphonesSmartphones

  2. wardteacher says:

    WOW– this hits it on the head literally. I have to tell you , Margaret… again, your work should be syndicated and you should earn more than 8 buck an hour.
    Not because your reflections are clever (they are…) but because , this passes on a lot of good info to us out her who like thrift stores and need to be reminded that sometimes we are the assholes we see in the mirror.

    This is a great column and thanks….. P

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