The Real Lives of Vintage Sellers: Daily Dilemmas & Doubts

by Sammy in 5 Comments — Updated March 29, 2024

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

Photography by Diane Dulgerian 

While selling vintage fashion may look like all fun and games, there’s serious work to be done before profits can be achieved.

First, there’s vintage clothing to be found, cleaned, and reconstructed.

Then, there’s models to hire, backdrops to be hung, garments to be shot, edited and listed.

After all of that, there’s descriptions to write, keywords to add and tweeting, Facebooking and Instagramming to do.

Oh, and did I mention customer service, packaging and shipping? Plus everything-in-between unique to fueling the business model of an online vintage shop.

No wonder in last week’s survey on “Your Experiences Selling Vintage Online,” time management was the second biggest problem facing vintage sellers!!

Didn’t take the survey but want to weigh in with your thoughts? Leave a comment on the blog post, and feel free to forward this blog post to a friend in the industry.



If any of the issues expressed below resonate with you, I’m offering the following consulting premium consulting packages via Clarity. In the following weeks I’ll be unveiling lower-priced entry-level packages via video consulting on PopExpert. 

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More


 Survey Background & Disclaimer

1.) Survey was individually shared with online shop sellers featured in the 100 Best Vintage Shops Online and mass-emailed to subscribers of the Sammy Davis Vintage newsletter (subscribe here).

2.) Survey remained open from Tuesday, May 28th to Thursday, June 6th.

3.) 138 responses were collected before close.

4.) Survey was 100 percent anonymous.

5.) Responders could “skip” questions in survey at free will.

6.) Survey was 100 percent voluntary and not compensated.

7.) Survey was not delivered via a professional marketing/statistical information gathering service. Sammy Davis Vintage does not claim to be responsible for accuracy of results, data and analysis.

8.) The results of this survey are in no form 100 percent representative of the industry and were collected to inspire, entertain and enlighten the Sammy Davis Vintage audience.

 Q1: Where do you sell vintage online?

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

  1. 1.) Etsy: 81.2%
  2. 2.) eBay: 30.8%
  3. 3.) My own site: 15.0%
  4. 4.) Other: 14.3%
  5. 5.) Rubylane: 1.5%
  6. 6.) 1st Dibs: 1.5%
  7. 7.) ASOS: 0.8%
  8. 8.) Artfire: 0.0%
  9. 9.) More than two platforms: 3.8%

Q2: Do you buy vintage based on current trends?

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

  1. 1.) I buy a trend when I see it, but not priority: 51.9%
  2. 2.) No. I focus on vintage clothing no matter the trends: 36.1%
  3. 3.) At least half of my inventory is trend-based: 18.0%
  4. 4.) More than 75% of my inventory is trend-based: 3.0%
  5. 5.) I only buy designer vintage: 0.0%

Some of your comments:

>> “Typically, I buy what I like or what catches my eye. Maybe that’s a mistake – not sure.”

>> “I’d like to elaborate on my answer. I am acutely aware of trends because I’ve worked in the current fashion market for so many years but I don’t specifically buy vintage based on trends. I always buy certain eras based on my love for those particular eras (’50s, ’60s ’70s) and my shop reflects that. And I buy a few items based on what is currently trending, i.e. The current Gatsby craze.”

>> “I buy what is unique, well-designed and possibly trend-proof.”

>> “I buy what I like, whatever the era, doesn’t matter.”

>> “I buy what I like. My rule for my shop is that I only buy things I would wear, if it is a trend but i wouldn’t wear it I leave it. I think it helps give the shop it’s style.”

>> “I often pick up pieces because of a current trend, but as trends come and go I always pick up something I think is elegant, timeless and cute, no matter if it’s on trend or not.”

>> “I learned not to buy based on trends. Trends come and go but style always remains. I only buy what I like.”

>> “I buy for current trends and try to list those right away, but having been in business 10+ years I have 1000’s of garments in inventory that were purchased previously because they are quality vintage, regardless of trends.”

>> “Try to buy designer if available, but sometimes just go with looks. Some ladies like the vintage style and some like more trendy fashion.”

>> “I buy based on what I sell the most in my shop i.e. 1940s dresses, blouses and occasionally more recent (’70s) pieces that fit more fashionable trends. After 2 years in business I definitely buy for my specific existing customers.”

>> “I imagine a hat on my 20’s daughter. If it would look good on her, I purchase!”

>> “I buy vintage based on its timeless quality/look and eccentric pieces that will always be statement pieces.”

Q3: The biggest issue facing your shop is …

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

  1. 1.) Finding customers: 51.5%
  2. 2.) Time management: 40.3%
  3. 3.) Finding quality inventory: 26.9%
  4. 4.) Social media management: 23.9%
  5. 5.) Finding time to learn new skills, technology and marketing techniques to help my business prosper: 27.6%
  6. 6.) Scaling and automating my business to make more money: 19.4%
  7. 7.) Deciding on the best price for garment value: 14.2%
  8. 8.) Figuring out my business finances to make most profit possible: 12.7%
  9. 9.) Customer service management: 1.5%

Some of your comments:

>> “Social media management is foreign to me. I am really at a loss when it comes to this.”

>> “Right now, with the large amount of inventory, the biggest challenge is taking quality pictures for each and everyone of them! Time and energy consuming.”

>> “All of the above! The whole process is so time consuming. Finding, researching, cleaning, mending, photographing … etc.”

>> “Public relations/crafting a solid and genuine voice and attending flea markets to raise my profile.

>> “Drawing people to my store, using keywords and tags that will do that. Maximizing views and sales through SEO.”

>> “Finding the time to figure out what’s the best way to sell on eBay. I have the product but am very intimidated about writing out descriptions and figuring out “buy it now” and shipping fees.”

>> “Deciding what vintage items will sell is my biggest challenge and how to tag them so they will be found.

>> “As a part-time seller I can’t seem to make more than part-time money. If I could have a higher margin on fewer items it would help!”

>> “I have great sources for inventory but can’t seem to list it fast enough and turn it over fast enough. I wish I could clone myself to get it all done, but in truth I don’t want to hire other people, I want to “do it all” myself still.”

>> “Marketing is where I need help!”

>> “I wish that there were more really successful vintage marketplaces.”

Q4: You get most upset with yourself when ….

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

  1. 1.) Compare myself with other sellers: 37.2%
  2. 2.) Work hard with social media but don’t get sales from it: 32.6%
  3. 3.) Work all the time without seeing profit or being able to pay myself: 29.5%
  4. 4.) Feel fear or lack of motivation behind my business: 21.7%
  5. 5.) Don’t prioritize my priorities: 20.2%
  6. 6.) Buy too much inventory: 17.1%
  7. 7.) Fail to keep track of my profits and losses: 13.2%

Some of your comments:

>> “I’m scared to open on online shop.”

>> “Finding the time to focus on my business.”

>> “Since I am in the early stages of putting my business together, I am not seeing much profit. I am OK with that but I am hoping that I see a payoff in the near future.”

>> “I’m not getting page visits or likes to store or Facebook page.”

>> “Feeling like I bought a bunch of unsellable junk sometimes, especially since I haven’t started listing yet cause I’m still working on the photos and the brand. Yet I feel obliged to buy items when I see something or when there’s an incredible sale.”

>> “Buying the inventory and then taking forever to get around to photograph and post it.”

>> “Managing my time between household importance (domestic goddess) vs. my business. Keeping up with my home and my business is always a struggle for me.”

>> “When I buy items I think will sell and they don’t.”

>> “When I lose a lead or a sale.”

>> “I make a profit on vintage but it includes doing shows and renting dealer space. I’d like to just do web sales but in 10 years+ it hasn’t been enough to sustain the business.”

>> “Buying things that need too much work, they end up sitting in bins for months.”

>> “Can’t figure out the best marketing strategy.”

Q5: How do your customers make you feel?

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

  1. 1.) Pretty good! I’ve had one or two incidents and hassles, but other than that, they are great to work with: 56.4%
  2. 2.) Great! My customers are friendly, caring and never give me problems: 39.8%
  3. 3.) Could be better. I wish my customers didn’t provide so many hassles, but we always work things out.: 4.5%
  4. 4.) So-so. I’ve had some major disasters and continue to face frustrating situations with customers: 1.5%

Some of your comments:

>> “I work with owners of shops, most are great to work with … some are cold and will not give me advice.”

>> “Love them!!!!”

>> “Never had a problem customer or return since 1998. I think it’s all in accurate/complete/detailed listing descriptions.”

>> “People who’ve never shopped online have been problematic … to extremes a couple of them.”

>> “International buyers are the worst! They always seem to have a complaint, but they seem to drive a lot of Etsy sales.”

>> “I love the people who buy from me! A great sense of accomplishment when people love the stuff you sell.”

>> “I love dealing with customers, it’s one of the best aspects of selling vintage!”

>> “Selling online I’ve had a few hiccups, but I think that’s part of the game. My biggest problem is selling in-person. I live in the midwest and people are used to buying vintage cheap or thrifting themselves, so in person they almost always ask for steep discounts that I have a hard time refusing because I feel the need to turn inventory and move items to help pay my booth rent and fees.”

>> “Your customers will be as caring and involved as you are. Respect is a two-way street. Sellers who have a hard time with customers end up losing them to business owners like me.”

>> “As far as online sales, Etsy customers are the easiest and best to work with. Ruby Lane customers are good but RL enforces a return policy no matter what the seller’s policy is on an item, which can cause issues. eBay customers for me have been the most difficult and outright fraudulent.”

>> “Our customers are excellent!”

>> “The customers generally range from incredibly terrible to insanely terrible. the vintage market has run itself into the ground by lowering prices to near nothing and has attracted only the cheapest, WORST customer.”

>> “I have about two problems a year now and it’s almost always due to fit. Customer did not pay attention to measurements.”

>> “Most customers are great, however occasionally you get a situation where even tho it is not right, you are put over a barrel because of feedback.”

Q6: Do you know how mobile affects your shop sales and traffic?

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

  1. 1.) No idea, but maybe I should look: 65.9%
  2. 2.) Yes, it’s definitely a priority and I get traffic and sales via mobile: 22.7%
  3. 3.) No idea and I don’t think it matters for me: 12.1%

Q7: What social media platform gives you greatest return on sales?

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

  1. 1.) Facebook: 44.3%
  2. 2.) My marketplace gives me all my sales: 33.9%
  3. 3.) Pinterest: 20.9%
  4. 4.) Twitter: 18.3%
  5. 5.) Instagram: 14.8%
  6. 6.) Newsletter: 3.5%
  7. 7.) YouTube: 0.0%

Q8: How much money (in profits) did you make for 2012?

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

Less than $5,000: 56.1%
$5,000-$10,000: 18.7%
$10,000-$15,000: 5.7%
$15,000-$20,000: 6.5%
$20,000-$30,000: 1.6%
$30,000: 12.2%

Q9: When a customer asks for a discount I reply (or think to myself) …

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

  1. 1.) Maybe. How much do you want?: 69.9%
  2. 2.) Um … why are you asking me this?: 17.3%
  3. 3.) Sure. How much do you want?: 10.5%
  4. 4.) Absolutely not. This is the set price: 6.0%
  5. 5.) Are you trying to buy my garment and resell it?: 5.3%

Q10: When I have a question about selling vintage, dating vintage, finding vintage, etc. I know exactly who to ask …

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

  1. 1.) Sort of, but I wish I could turn to one person who knew everything: 41.9%
  2. 2.) Yes. I have many mentors: 38.8%
  3. 3.) Not really. Everyone is too busy: 10.9%
  4. 4.) Definitely not. This is a competitive industry: 10.9%


What are the problems that face your shop? How do these questions resonate with you? Please leave a comment below and share this survey with your friends in the industry.

More Vintage Selling Advice

My Unofficial “Formula” for Pricing Vintage Clothing
Why You Should Make Customers Your Best (Digital) Friends
10 Careers Involving Vintage Clothing
Subscribe to my Newsletter for Vintage Selling Tips & Advice

Need help marketing your online or brick & mortar vintage store? Schedule a consulting call with me today!

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More


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Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

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5 thoughts on “The Real Lives of Vintage Sellers: Daily Dilemmas & Doubts”

  1. Great pole, Sammy! Missed it, but I will say that I no longer resell vintage clothing online. Like many of your readers, I’ve found that the time investment far outweighed the profits earned. I put way more effort into selling clothes in the past than I did into selling other vintage items. I know good profits can be made, but I believe it takes extraordinary effort and a singular focus.

    These days, I’ll only buy a vintage garment to resell online if it’s something iconic like a 1950s Chantilly lace party dress or a Mexican circle skirt that’s dirt cheap and in great condition. I know I can always make a good profit on items like that. Also, if I think I can make say $20 or more flipping a vintage garment at a flea market, I will buy it as I don’t have to go through the long process of selling it online.


    P.S. Love that you have a consulting service called Clarity. That word is a driving force in my life these days.

    • hi Linda! Thank you for this comment! You provide some great insights I hadn’t thought of. The transition from selling more clothing to less, and focusing on other items which without concern of size, style or “trend” can / will sell at any time and to any type of customer.

      Where are you based?

      • I live in SoCal, in the OC. I sell at the LA based fleas.

  2. Some great insights here! It would benefit users so much if Ebay or Etsy posted this within their News and PR areas! x Ritu

  3. Thanks so much for this post! I’m in my first year of selling vintage online and it’s very comforting to know that I’m not the only one facing some of these issues!


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