Formative Resale Research

Second-hand stores provide an essential service but the quality and selection of the goods available at locations varies widely. This makes it difficult for shoppers to find stores that suit their needs. My research team focused on formative research to determine if a technological tool to help users find thrift stores would be viable, and, if so, what features customers would find useful.

Problem Definition

Current resources intended to connect shoppers with stores exist but are incomplete and do not provide consistent data. Our research attempted to answer whether there was an opportunity for a technology-based tool to support finding stores more easily. Better understanding of the problem space and constraints would be considered a success.


Our research was focused on the needs of customers (low income families, sustainable living enthusiasts, bargain hunters, and vintage aficionados) and owner-operators of vintage / thrift / resale establishments.

Team / Role

I worked with three other project contributors: David Nguyen, Libby VanWhy, and Jenny Johns. Each team member played roughly equal roles in data collection, interviewing, and research. I led the development of the research methodology, analysis methodology, and findings synthesis and reporting.


Our team was 100% remote and distributed between the midwest and west coast, which proved a challenge due to time differences. In addition, all team members worked full-time and had families, which made orchestrating synchronous sessions difficult. We circumvented this by using Google Hangouts for face-to-face discussions (and archiving, should one member be unable to attend) and Google Docs for asynchronous communication.

Design Process

Download the full research paper for detailed research methodology.

Process Findings

In this study, we evaluated the intake of goods and customer interactions at four different types of second-hand stores (two thrift, one resale, and one consignment), conducted interviews with eight different second-hand shoppers, and surveyed 56 anonymous respondents. This formative research is intended to explore whether a technology-based tool connecting second-hand store enthusiasts with second-hand stores is worth developing.

Observational Findings

In our observations we identified four types of parties who sell used goods to second- hand stores: customers, salvagers, volunteers, and consignors. Five common interaction types formed the process of used goods intakes: (1) Contact Between Submitter and Store Staff, (2) Goods Arrival, (3) Goods Review, (4) Deal & Payment Made, and (5) Submitter or Store Staff Break Contact.

We found that the predisposition of second-hand stores to accept goods for consignment or resale were related to many factors, including (a) the stores’ histories of previous interactions with or trust in the seller; (b) the current store inventory for the type of goods the seller has available; (c) brand and condition of goods; and (d) store clientele, e.g., if goods were priced within a range the proprietor felt their clientele would be willing to pay.

Survey Findings

Highlights from what respondents feel would be helpful in a second-hand store tool include, map that shows all nearby stores, sales/clearance days, current store inventory, and customer ratings and reviews.

Our survey data corroborated our initial findings from the observation and interview studies. The results of the survey gave us a better understanding of the demographics of second-hand shoppers and what they would use most in a tool to connect with second-hand stores.

Interview Findings

In our interviews, four findings surfaced that would shape the design of a technology-based tool to help people who shop or want to shop at second-hand stores: (1) interviewees felt they would value a tool which allowed them to discover stores by the category of the store and an estimate of the type of goods sold in the store, (2) serendipitous discovery is preferred over using a technology-based search in second- hand stores, (3) most shoppers enjoy hunting for and finding an item of monetary or personal value, and (4) quality of second-hand goods is important to shoppers.

Personas and Scenarios

Based on our survey and interview data we created two personas, one male and one female. We created one scenario for each persona to describe the happy path for each potential tool user.

When considering a potential tool in this space, useful features include the ability to show a general store’s inventory, location-based notifications when in proximity to a second-hand store, ratings and comments about the store, and announcements of sales/clearances and special events.


Our research provided great insight into this project space with actionable information to develop personas, scenarios, feature matrixes, and specific next steps for research.

In future research, we would like to conduct focus groups with a mix of second-hand store owners and second-hand store shoppers. The goal would be to better understand how each group categorizes the types of goods carried by second-hand stores, various store specialty classifications, and other categorization aspects of the second-hand shopping experience. This will allow us to build a tool which communicates effectively between stakeholders.

Additionally, our survey results revealed that almost all respondents did not categorize themselves in the “necessity” category for “reasons why you second-hand shop.” To fully understand the scope of a second-hand shopping tool, we feel it would be necessary to find respondents who would categorize themselves in this way.

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