Everyone has been impacted by the global pandemic, especially small businesses. Thrift shops are among those enterprises that have had to make a number of changes in order to stay open, sell goods, and support the charities they serve. What I’m wondering is this: which of those changes will remain?
Along with plexiglass at the cashiers, hand-sanitizing stations, mandatory masks, and directional arrows, one of the biggest changes to the thrift shopping experience has been the closing of fitting rooms.
I’m not entirely sure why this is standard practice. Most for-profit clothing stores allow customers to try clothes on and they are most certainly NOT laundering those clothes in between fittings. Used clothing has already been worn but many thrift shops do launder their clothes before putting them on the floor, so I don’t see the difference.
Nonetheless, no access to fitting rooms is the norm; in fact, several thrift shops I’ve been in – including (evil) Value Village – have actually removed their fitting rooms entirely and at some thrift shops there’s conversation about not bringing them back. For the thrift shop owners, this makes some sense. Removing the fitting rooms creates more floor space for product. Fitting rooms are also a source of irritation since they are often left a mess and when your workforce is mostly volunteer based, you often don’t have enough staff to keep up with the tidying. Even though shops limit the number of items one takes into a room, this is where theft often happens. So removing the rooms altogether is an advantage for the shop owner. For the shopper, not so much.
Not being able to try clothing on means you’re taking a chance with each purchase. Part of the problem is that the size assigned to a piece of clothing is meaningless. Size 10 at H&M or Old Navy is not the same as size 10 at Northern Reflections or MEC. With thrift purchases you have the added possibility that the item has been incorrectly washed by the previous owner and has shrunk. Because many clothing manufacturers are now adding spandex to everything (I am not complaining about this!) sizing has become even trickier. So not being able to try something on makes purchasing a challenge.
If you could take something home and return it, it would make it slightly less inconvenient but nearly all thrift shops are “all sales final.” (Evil) Value Village does allow you to return an item within 2 weeks but not for refund nor for store credit: you must find something of equal value on the day you return the item. This is pretty smart on their part because typically, you end up spending even more.
So, mostly, you hold up a piece of clothing in front of a mirror, you stretch it across your body, and you guess. Given that most of your purchases are cheap, you’re willing to take the risk, and you justify it by telling yourself that you’re making a donation to charity. I’ve only recently returned to thrift shopping (mostly because of my own pandemic-caused, mental health anxiety issues) and in 3 shopping excursions I’d say I’ve gotten it right 50% of the time. Given that I return the items back to the thrift shop from which I’ve purchased them, that’s a pretty sweet deal for the thrift shop.
And since I genuinely support the charities that these shops represent, I’m mostly okay with that. But I think that at the end of the pandemic, I’d like to see fitting rooms return.
What do you think?