An Odd Tip for Avoiding Impulse Buys Online

If you shop secondhand online, you’ve probably bought something you later regretted; perhaps the color wasn’t as it appeared on your monitor, or maybe the fit was off in a way that taking your measurements didn’t account for.

Sometimes the reason we regret an online purchase is simply that we shouldn’t have bought it at all – we didn’t need it or love it, but we were seduced by the thrill of having found something unique or nabbing a sought-after item at a great price. After all, when you can search thousands of people’s closets with just a few clicks, you’re presented with far more possibilities than provided at your average thrift store.

So this tip for avoiding bad secondhand buys online is a bit counterintuitive:

Ask yourself if you would buy this in a thrift store.

This seems illogical; after all, the reason you’re interested in that “perfect” striped shirt from Current/Elliott is because you’d likely never find it in your local thrift store – and if you did, you’d snap it up as an amazing find. And why else are you looking online if not to find a very specific piece or standout stuff that makes your local thrift scene look anemic?

But weirdly, it works – for me at least.

I think that’s because I’m actually used to finding great stuff at the thrift store – and used to saying “no” to it, because I know from experience that a great find isn’t really a great find if it’s not actually my style/doesn’t fit *just* right/is a weird color I never wear. Thrifting for me has become a rather choosy undertaking – I have high standards and know what I’m looking for, and if I don’t find it, I can leave emptyhanded and come back another time.

I also know from experience that items that seem like I’ll NEVER find them again often do crop up again at the thrift store – not always, but often. And that’s doubly true online where the inventory is greatly multiplied.

So when I’ve found the “perfect” pink trench coat on Poshmark, for a very reasonable price, I stop for a minute and imagine it on the racks at the thrift store. Would it be an immediate “nab this and try it on”? Or would it fall into “eh” territory, or “it would be great if it were just a little different” territory, or “I have too many pink coats already” territory? If so, I “like” it so I can come back to enjoy it later, and move on.

Everyone says a good rule for thrifting is to ask yourself if you would pay full price for an item with a cheap price tag on it – and that’s a good strategy. But I’ve found that the reverse thought experiment is true, too – would I spend $6 on this $45 eBay listing, given how often I’ve learned that spending $6 on something is no guarantee I’ll wear it?


How do you keep from making impulse buys online?