On a college student’s budget, it can be difficult for students to find money to expand their wardrobes. And with even thrift shop prices on the rise, it’s hard for students to leave a store without denting their wallets.
It’s exactly this mentality that inspired Boston University, College of Communication junior, Alexandra Shadrow to start BUtiques, a Facebook group that allows BU students to post photos of clothing that they would like to sell at their own asking price.
Shadrow said she had lost some weight, wanted to get new clothes and sell her old ones. At first, she tried Buffalo Exchange, which offered low prices and didn’t accept much of her clothing. She decided to take things into her own hands and created BUtiques, which soon grew in popularity.
“It grew on its own, so that was really cool,” Shadrow said. “I didn’t realize how many people had the same desire to sell their stuff and buy their stuff, needing somewhere safe to do it, like I did.”
BUtiques was launched in May 2011 and had about 200 members at the end of the first month, said Shadrow. By September of 2011, it was booming and it currently has 1,729 members.
She said it is a place to buy and sell any product, not just clothing.
“It’s any product — not just clothing,” Shadrow said. “It’s furniture, tickets, sports goods like baseball bats, a refrigerator, kitchen utensils, clothing, shoes — anything that a college student can own, they can sell on my site.”
Expanding the horizons
Shadrow said she is taking the semester off to launch a host website called Unitiques, which was inspired by BUtiques. Unitiques will expand the idea of BUtiques, and will be a free service open to any national college or university. Each advertisement branch of Unitiques will represent a different university, where Students can create individual profiles and share any product that they like.
“When I had 1,000 in BUtiques, I started realizing that people really liked it, and there are a lot of items that are uploaded every day,” Shadrow said. “Right now there are over 1,700 girls in the group, so it started getting pretty big. I got a lot of contact from people from other schools saying they wanted it at their school. It’s just basically taking BUtiques to the next level and offering it to everybody, including guys and including all colleges.”
Shadrow hopes that the students nationally will be interested in the service. She said she is passionate about Unitiques and hopes to tailor it to student feedback.
“I definitely care what students think about it and I really encourage people to contact us right after they’re a member,” Shadrow said. “If people want stuff added on to the site, tell us, and I’ll do it.”
Shadrow said she hopes students nation-wide will be interested in the service.
“My ultimate goal is to get every college student, which is twenty-one million people, onto the site,” she said. “I don’t know how realistic that is, but I really want it to be something that everybody likes to use.”
Students upload images of their products once they create their profile. These products are then categorized and can be subcategorized, and students select the condition of their product, the price of the product and whether it’s negotiable, and their reason for selling the item. Students can search by tags, top-rated items and best user ratings.
“If you’re in NYU for a weekend and need a dress to wear to a party, then you can search NYU’s Unitiques branch and can find exactly what you’re looking for, which is pretty great,” Shadrow said.
Other features of the site include a contact seller option, where students can message the seller directly about a product, as well as a rating system, where buyers can describe how they felt about bought items.
Shadrow said that the review portion of the site will encourage people to be honest with their products.
“It motivates people to have good ethics on the site,” Shadrow said.
Also, she said she is planning for Unitiques to have an exchange feature, where students can swap products, as well as a potential roommate and apartment search. Unitiques will also have a mobile app.
No final date has been set for Unitiques to launch, but it is planned for the near future, and will add features as the service continues to grow.
A professional opinion
BU School of Management Professor Barbara Bickart said she thinks Unitiques has the potential to be a successful business.
“Using social influence, so people can like products and feel as if they can judge the popularity of a product based on other peoples’ perceptions, often tends to drive sales or preference, so I think that’s great,” Bickart said.
Although Bickart said there are other sites that allow people to sell their products, she thinks the familiarity college students have with social media and online shopping will help Unitiques.
“This is really focused on just college students and you can affiliate with your college, which I would guess brings some kind of community,” Bickart said.
Bickart suggests that the best way for Unitiques to grow is through word of mouth, as well as by adding additional services or new product lines as the service expands.
“People are going to have to discover the site, and she’s going to have to seat it with some influential people at each of these schools, who are connected in the fashion community at some level, because I think that the idea’s going to diffuse through those networks,” Bickart said.
Students share their thoughts
Though BUtiques will discontinue after Unitiques is launched, BU students who have used BUtiques think that the new host website is a good idea.
“I think it’s the perfect way for people to benefit from one another instead of just throwing things away,” said Nicole Conniff, a sophomore in the College of General Studies .
Conniff also said that she plans to make an account for Unitiques.
“It’s an original and useful idea that anyone can do, and by setting up a national website, the word will get out to other students much easier,” she said.
COM junior Schuyler Silverman said she regularly uses BUtiques, and loves that the Facebook group doesn’t encourage students to charge too much.
“I think it’s great because instead of being ripped off by thrift stores that take a large percentage of your items’ profits, you name your price on BUtique and get the full amount,” she said.
Silverman said that she thinks Unitiques will build off of BUtique’s popularity.
“Judging by how successful BUtique is, Unitiques should be explosive,” Silverman said. “Unitiques will open up this awesome networking site to boys, where they can join in buying and selling of cheap and convenient items.”