A new venue for what’s used

Goodwill of NCW launches online apparel shop

Posted on Mar 31, 2017 :: Features
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Goodwill has long outlived its thrift-store reputation — although there are still those who love to find bargains there.

But the nonprofit store, a staple in Northeast Wisconsin, has been making even bigger strides in enhancing its sales and image by selling online. In fact, the e-commerce segment of Goodwill of Northcentral Wisconsin has been growing each year; last year, it earned just over $3 million through several online channels. A staff of 42, based in Appleton, works on e-commerce initiatives.

“If we look at the market research — where shopping is going — it’s growing by leaps and bounds online,” says Ann Kendzierski, Goodwill of NCW’s retail operations process leader. “The writing is on the wall. Our culture is changing enough. People are going to be shopping online more and more; our e-commerce growth is following that.

While Goodwill of NCW has been selling items via auction for about two decades at www.shopgoodwill.com (owned by the Orange County, Calif., Goodwill), in January it launched reStitch, a new online set-price venue for name brand women’s clothes.

“We’re the first Goodwill to do anything like this,” Kendzierski says.

The site, www.restitch.com, bears the motto “Look great. Do good,” a nod to the fact that all purchases benefit Goodwill of NCW, which serves 35 counties. According to the site, “Across the full Goodwill footprint, 83 percent of the organization’s revenues are spent on education, career services and community programming.”

Except for a small mention of Goodwill of NCW on the bottom of the page, reStitch looks like a retail website, similar in appearance to a Kohl’s or JC Penney apparel page. Hip, colorful and searchable, reStitch appears aimed at millennials and others seeking value prices on familiar brands, such as J. Jill, Talbots, Tommy Hilfiger and Victoria’s Secret.

“We really wanted to create something more contemporary,” Kendzierski says.

“reStitch’s goal is to give shoppers the opportunity to look great while doing good — knowing that their purchases are helping support job training and mentoring programs for someone in need,” says Brenda Haines, co-founder/consultant of Blue Door Consulting, a marketing firm in Oshkosh that helped launch the site.

Part of the site’s appeal is the fact that the user can search by size, brand, color and type of clothing. Merchandising is key, both online and in stores, says Kris Rihn, leader of buying and merchandising. “You need to have things categorized; you need to sell like or adjacent items, track your inventory, look at trends,” she says.

Finding apparel to post on reStitch is no problem.

“We have so much apparel inventory,” Kendzierski says, noting that some of the better brand name items will appear on the site, but because so many clothes are always being donated, customers still are able to find brand names in the brick-and-mortar stores.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is offer options in the stores and online,” says Kendzierski, who noted that about 5 to 6 percent of Goodwill of NCW’s revenues are made online; they’d like to grow that to 10 percent, she added. 

While it’s too early to estimate the popularity or success of reStitch, Goodwill of NCW has seen certain items sell extremely well online at shopgoodwill.com. Jennifer Ainsworth, Goodwill of NCW’s leader of e-commerce, says jewelry and collectibles sell very well online, especially through the auction process (similar to eBay’s model). Vintage memorabilia, games, Legos and musical instruments are also best sellers (the latter, which wouldn’t fare well in stores, Ainsworth says, sell well for parts online).

While Goodwill’s e-commerce experts don’t expect “gloom and doom” for their brick-and-mortar stores, they do forecast online sales to grow more quickly. That’s due to what Kendzierski calls a “general shift that is taking place in the industry.” In a nutshell, customers are shifting their habits. Haines agrees.

“Nationally, we see growth of brick-and-mortar retail is fairly flat while online retailers are still growing at double-digit rates. Last year, a UPS survey found consumers bought more of their purchases online than in stores. So, expanding e-commerce channels is a natural opportunity for an organization like Goodwill.

“Simply put, it’s where shoppers are going. It’s also good for consumers because it gives them the opportunity to get the feel-good vibes from a Goodwill NCW shopping experience any time, no matter where they live.”

Goodwill of NCW has tried hard over the years, Kendzierski says, to position itself not as a thrift store, but rather a “mainstream retailer,” upping its merchandising appeal and adding clean, bright lighting.

Its target audience, Rihn said, is a middle-income woman aged 35 to 55 … “shopping for the entire family.” And what almost all Goodwill shoppers are seeking, across the board, is “the value proposition and the thrill of the hunt.”

The hunt may get a lot easier with reStitch, where it’s much quicker to find desired items than browsing through color-separated racks. But whether it’s online or in person, Goodwill of NCW just wants to “maximize the value of what we do sell … to fund our programs and services,” Kendzierski says.

That value translates to how much Goodwill of NCW gives back to the community, such as through family, financial, social, diversity and vocational services. For example, the nonprofit gave about $850,000 in Good Neighbor vouchers to families in need (through local partnerships).

“We work very hard to be very good stewards of our donations,” Rihn adds.