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Keeping Up with the Trends: How Thrift Stores Remain Relevant

Published on March 22, 2022, at 10:06 p.m. 
by Alice Helms.

From the origin of thrift stores as ‘junk dealers’ to their modern-day, treasure-hunter patrons, American society has altered its view on those who buy things secondhand. The thrifting industry has created a growing consumer base for those of monetary-conscious minds to purchase necessary items, such as clothes, for hundreds of years.

When working to develop relationships within the thrifting industry, Trenise Lyons, director of communications and customer engagement for Goodwill of North Georgia, stated that her team relies on the appeal of the stories that they tell. “Clear, compelling messaging, attention to the needs of our audiences and an understanding of the changing communication landscape [are] necessary to our success and those of all communicators, regardless of the industry,” she explained.

Reaching thrifters
Julianna Hallman, the director of marketing for America’s Thrift Stores, noted that the organization targets categorized audiences with tactics strategically thought to relate best within the thrift industry. She identified a few subsets of the company’s consumer public, such as “‘Gen Z fashionistas,’ treasure hunters and those who need to stay on budget.” Each target audience requires different strategies and tactics of reach. America’s Thrift Stores reaches “Gen Z fashionistas” through its social media accounts, such as TikTok and Instagram reels, and through other digital targeting efforts. Treasure hunters are targeted through the organization’s store and email campaigns.

In describing the communication efforts from Goodwill, Lyons stated, “Our communication strategy is largely based in research and tailored for the audiences we are trying to reach.” Using the research insights, her team based in North Georgia is “always looking to optimize messages to tell the best story about the specific topic we are discussing to reach the audience we are targeting at the time.”

Photo courtesy of America’s Thrift Stores

Hallman recalled America’s Thrift Stores’ 2021 Halloween campaign. The basis for the campaign was to appeal to a new audience, such as the college students surrounding the America’s Thrift Store in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, one of its largest locations. The idea was to create a “one-stop shop” mindset for those who were looking for several Halloween costumes, a costume on a budget or the last-minute costume. It was a successful campaign due to its use of influencers and went on to win an American Advertising Federation- Birmingham “ADDY” Award, according to Hallman.

Finding the key to consumer interest
Thrift stores are growing and reaching their consumer publics not only in brick-and-mortar stores but also via online websites. While Goodwill has had its online services available for a while, America’s Thrift Stores is new to its online expansion.

America’s Thrift Stores is looking to grow its reach to its target audiences by selling items online through its new e-commerce platform,, according to Hallman. Since the company is known for restocking over 10,000 items daily, the addition of the sales to its website has the potential to begin relationships with people all over the country and grow the relationships it has with its consumers now.

Hallman said America’s Thrift Stores is broken into five different segments. The first two — retail stores and a donations and logistics segment — are what its publics know best. After clothes have been on the retail floor for a few weeks, the company transfers the unsold items from each store to its wholesale segment, which increases the company’s recycling efforts, noted Hallman. “We want to keep as many items from the landfills as possible,” she explained. “If a company can use a lost shoe or sock to repurpose into recycled materials, we are happy to provide those items to them so it doesn’t reach a landfill.”

Making vintage cool

Photo courtesy of America’s Thrift Stores

Like the generations before them, Gen Z is making industries such as thrifting their own. “The changing consumer habits and vast purchasing power of Gen Z are driving the value of resale startups like Depop skyward,” NPR’s Savannah Sicurell explained. Within the past five or so years, buying secondhand “vintage” clothing is how this generation has begun to make its own style, even if many Gen Zers are on a budget.

Gen Z’s new appreciation for secondhand fashion is good for brick-and-mortar retail. Even though online thrift shops are gaining popularity, it’s becoming an activity for Gen Z to go out to the stores for fun. It can even become a second income for Gen Z to resell items they find.

Bringing sustainability to the industry
The industry itself has shifted to appeal to those who are conscious of not only their wallets but also of reducing their carbon footprints, according to Hallman. Gen Zers consider their impact on the Earth and how they can participate in activities such as thrifting to reduce their negative impacts on the environment. Sustainability is a product of thrifting, since clothes in thrift stores like America’s Thrift Stores and Goodwill come from donations.

Hallman explained that most clothing ends up in landfills. However, America’s Thrift Stores saves more than 50 million pounds of donatable goods from landfills every year, she said.

Lyons noted that “as the world continues to focus on issues like climate change and sustainability, we are seeing people make the connection between the impacts of fast fashion on the environment and how thrifting can be an antidote to that problem.”

The thrifting industry is alive and well both online and in brick-and-mortar stores through connections with consumers. The stories behind each store’s mission and items of clothing are appealing not only to those who like budget friendly finds, but those who live a sustainable life as well. Organizations such as America’s Thrift Stores and Goodwill of North Georgia continue public relations efforts to stay relevant to the growing Gen Z interest and other subsets of the thrifting consumer public.

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