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Digital thrifts fill online need

 Calvin Young (left) and Noah Ready-Campbell are the co-founders of Twice.
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Date published: 10/13/2012



Hate that old blouse? Fear not: A slew of new startups are running virtual marketplaces where folks can sell or buy secondhand treasures.

Companies like Poshmark, Twice and Threadflip are offering new twists on the yard sale and what they say is a more intimate experience than online mega-malls like eBay.

"It feels like it's become a new cultural shift, in terms of what women can do with their wardrobes," said Rosalie Yu, a Poshmark user who lives in Dublin, Calif. "It's changed how I shop."

The trend is closely tied to the rise of other "collaborative consumption" startups like RelayRides, Airnbnb and TaskRabbit, which let people easily rent their cars or spare rooms and find help with odd jobs.

"I like the idea of doing something environmentally sustainable that helps people save money," said Noah Ready-Campbell, chief executive of Twice. So when he and a co-worker at Google decided to do their own startup, they saw a way to apply the collaborative concept to their own memories of childhood.

His service, launched in March, sends users prepaid shipping labels with which to send in their used designer clothes. (Sorry, gents--the site, like most others in the space, currently only handles women's items.)

After vetting the items to make sure of their condition, Twice staffers make an offer and send cash on the spot. They then photograph the items and curate them into an online catalog.

Ready-Campbell said Twice typically sells clothing for 25 to 35 percent more than it pays, a margin he calls similar to high-end thrift shops like Crossroads Trading and Buffalo Exchange. But with two-day shipping and 24/7 customer support, "we basically can create a like-new shopping experience for the buyer," he said.

The business model isn't without risk. Twice, and a similar online marketplace called thredUP that specializes in reselling children's clothes, have to invest in warehousing operations, which can boost costs.

If that approach can be likened to that of Amazon.com, Poshmark's is more like eBay's--a centralized exchange that matches buyers to sellers and takes a cut of the action without ever actually handling the merchandise.

"With our iPhone app, users can take a photo of an item in their closet, like a handbag or dress, and convert that into a listing in less than a minute," said CEO Manish Chandra. If a prospective buyer stumbles across that item in one of Poshmark's forums, the app's mobile messaging feature allows for quick communication between her and the seller. And once the sale is closed on the platform, Poshmark emails the seller a shipping label, then keeps 20 percent of the price.

Here are some startups that offer new online twists on thrift stores and yard sales:

Copious: A 'social marketplace' for buying and selling through your extended social networking contacts. copious.com

Threadflip: Offers both do-it-yourself and concierge-type services to let users re-sell fashion items. threadflip.com

ThredUP: Online marketplace for second-hand children's clothing. thredup.com

Twice: Buys and photographs customer clothing, then resells on its website. liketwice.com

Poshmark: Users upload photos of their items, then troll virtual 'Posh Party' boutiques for upscale bargains. poshmark.com