Can ThredUp’s New Stores Give Cheap Fashion Chains a Run For Their Money?

Ask anyone who doesn’t shop secondhand what the hold-up is and they’re likely to rattle off a list of well-worn fears: The clothes are too worn, items are the wrong size, and the hunt is not worth the time and effort when the odds are so high of coming up empty-handed. Online secondhand shops like ThredUp, TheRealReal and Tradesy have changed all this, and finding that perfect pre-loved thing is now just a few clicks away. Free shipping and returns further sweeten the deal.

This week, ThredUp announced it’s bringing that ease and magic to the real-world by opening brick-and-mortar stores. The first to open are in Texas and California, with potentially more locations to come. The company has built impressive data analytics and logistics since its founding in 2009, and the move into stores just might give the secondhand giant an edge over one of its main competitors: Cheap fashion chains.

ThredUp will stock its stores from its ever-growing inventory. The company now processes as much as 100,000 items per day. This scale has helped transform secondhand shopping from a hunter’s paradise to an instantaneous service expected in the age of Amazon. For example, if I’m looking for a blue dress, more than 700 results in my size come up on ThredUp, providing as much if not more variety than most cheap big box chains like T.J. Maxx or Khol’s or even department stores like Saks Off Fifth with huge inventories.

The new ThredUp stores will use extensive data to narrow down their inventory and tailor it to local tastes. As the site has racked up users and transactions, its collected reams of valuable data on how we shop. This data includes what brands we love, colors we gravitate toward and what sizes we wear, all based on where we live. Brooklynites may love Coach and Helmut Lang for example and wear a size small while San Marcos loves Michael Kors and might wear a medium. Using this information, ThredUp will be able to send only those on-trend, size-appropriate items to its local stores, further taking the hunt out of secondhand shopping.

What’s more, ThredUp is part of a generation of digital-native companies that hope to revolutionize the retail experience. In its stores, iPad kiosks will direct customers to the ThredUp website so they can order something else to complete an outfit or find a similar item in the correct size. ThredUp CEO James Reinhart explained to Forbes.com, “You can hold a shoe up to the iPad and it will search the online database for similar styles.” The fact that a secondhand fashion chain is pioneering these sorts of tech and digital-first retailing experiences is game-changing.

But can these advantages truly lure customers away from cheap fashion chains and even outlet malls? It’s entirely possible.

Most consumers would prefer to buy higher-quality brand names as long as they can A. afford it and B. buying it secondhand is as convenient as ubiquitous big-box stores.

ThredUp’s edge just might be it’s ability to sell literally any brand, from low to very high-end across all product categories, from handbags to a dress for a friend’s wedding, all at massive discounts. Why buy a Khol’s store brand when you could get a J. Crew blouse for the same price or cheaper? With ThredUP using their data and logistics to open perfectly-tuned and dirt-cheap brick and mortar stores, local bargain big box stores should be on notice.