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The New Era of Secondhand Shopping

“This is a trend that had been building for a decade or more,” said John Gerzema, a consumer expert and author of Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell, and Live.  “Americans had been changing their behavior even before the recession hit, saving more, spending less and closing the gap between their needs and wants. Consumers are becoming more conscious about their excesses and moving from mindless to mindful consumption.”

The rebirth of the thrift store is only one aspect of this. Dozens of websites have popped up in the past three years offering shoppers the opportunity to share, trade, barter and resell products to people who need them, no matter where they are.

Consumerism as we know it is about to change for good.

The Return of Old Consumer Values

Jory Felice was shopping at a garage sale last year when he stumbled on a vintage 20-year-old Mac Classic computer on sale for only $10. Felice, who works as a Web designer, couldn’t resist and bought it. Unfortunately, there was one problem: The computer was missing a mouse.

“They don’t make that mouse anymore, and from a design standpoint, I had to have that one,” Felice said.

So Felice left the garage sale with his purchase and turned to a different kind of thrifty community for help, a site called Neighborgoods where consumers can borrow or rent products from people who live nearby and share or sell their own goods in return.

Felice, who joined Neighborgoods in mid-2009, searched the site and, sure enough, found one user in his area who had dozens of old mice he no longer used and was willing to give away.

“This way, I didn’t have to go and bid on a mouse at some auction,” Felice said. Instead, all he had to do was drive over to the person’s house. Although, as he admits now, this did prove to be a unique experience.

“He was on his front porch with a bunch of his friends and had a paper bag with this old mouse in it. It was like a weird creepy drug deal,” Felice said. “But he was a really sweet guy, and it’s a great mouse.”

Neighborgoods officially launched in October 2009 after having been available in a beta version for several months. It launched nationally in June of this year. There are now more than 10,000 members on the site sharing and selling $3 million worth of goods. They, like Felice, use the site to save money, lend to others and find an alternative way to shop.

“We’re just using new technology to do old things,” said Micki Krimmel, the founder and CEO of Neighborgoods. “There are stories of women from 1910 who used to share vacuum cleaners. That’s essentially what we are doing now.”

The idea for the site began with a backpack.

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