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Online auctions are changing the way we shop for clothes

For some, the arrival of spring marks a time to air out their linen pants and cotton sundresses. For Marissa Lewis, it's time to put them up for auction on eBay.

When the seasons turn, Lewis goes into auction mode, financing her new clothing purchases with proceeds from last season's fashions -- all on eBay.

''I always shop this way now. I buy things knowing that I'm going to sell them," said Lewis. ''It's like getting new clothes for free, and besides, it's fun."

For Lewis, eBay has changed not only the way she shops but the way she thinks about shopping. Many retail analysts believe Lewis may be in an early wave of consumers who are shopping not only for value but for resale value, selecting their new handbags and cellphones based on how much they could fetch on eBay next year.

Once a haven for tech-savvy hobbyists peddling obscure wares, eBay has become a mainstream retail powerhouse where one can buy or sell just about anything from a brand new Chloe dress to a pair of discontinued Jimmy Choo shoes. In a world of discount retailers, online price comparisons, and fast fashion, people are becoming traders, rather than collectors, of clothing, using eBay as a vehicle for replacing the old with the new. As eBay ''drop shops" and individual resellers become more prevalent, retail analysts say, more shoppers will be buying and selling their clothing instead of amassing it in their closets and attics.

''For too long, we have been socially engineered to acquire new things and then grow old with them," said Daniel Nissanoff, author of the new book ''Futureshop: How the New Auction Culture Will Revolutionize the Way We Buy, Sell, and Get the Things We Really Want."

''In the future, we will learn how to purge pieces of clothing the moment we acknowledge that we are no longer interested in wearing them. These pieces will re-enter the market to be found by people who place value in them."

And it's only the beginning, said Nissanoff, noting that only 5 percent of eBay users are sellers right now. As more people embrace the notion of ''temporary ownership" and start to sell as well as buy, more shoppers will reap the benefits, he said.

One of the greatest benefits will be the ability to trade up to brands that were previously inaccessible, said Nissanoff. For instance, shoppers will feel more comfortable shelling out the cash for the latest Razr cellphone or a pair of Manolo Blahnik sandals because high-end goods will be viewed as smart buys, not whimsical indulgences.

In fact, even used upscale brands can fetch a killing on eBay.

Rick Lui satisfied his desire for high-end denim on eBay, snatching up numerous pairs of ''gently worn" Diesel jeans, which typically retail for around $200, for $25 a pop.

''I ended up amassing a huge collection," said Lui, who grew up in North Andover. ''At some point while moving 12 boxes of clothing, I decided to put some of the jeans back up on eBay. I ended up making money since I'd purchased them for a very low price to begin with."

Now he can buy more jeans.

Today when Lui comes across a good deal on a designer item on eBay, he said, he'll buy it because he knows he can resell the item for a profit by using more colorful descriptions, clearer pictures, and more creative keywords than the original seller.

''My hypothesis was confirmed when I bought a pair of Gucci loafers for $25 dollars, wore them a few times, and then sold them for $85 a few weeks later -- using better descriptions and photos," he said.

The most popular goods bought and sold on eBay are designer handbags, shoes, and accessories, as well as art and electronics. While bulkier items such as furniture that are pricey to ship usually don't sell well on eBay, they are very popular items on Craigslist, a website featuring community-based classified ads and message boards.

Even though it's not an auction site, Craigslist -- which eBay owns 25 percent of -- is essentially creating the same trading phenomenon on a more local level, according to David Gardner, cofounder of The Motley Fool. ''Shipping issues aren't the only factors to consider when you're deciding to buy or sell on Craigslist or eBay. You should also consider whether your items appeal to a national market."

For instance, Craigslist would be a better choice for selling a slightly used red couch from Ikea because such an item would not appeal to a national audience. However, if it was slightly used red couch from Ikea once owned by Prince William -- you'd go the eBay route.

Still, many people don't know where to begin or simply don't have the time to upload digital photos, write descriptions, and dream up the creative keywords necessary for selling on eBay. But now, drop shops, which don't sell anything but help people hawk their loot on eBay, are helping such people also get into the game.

In November, Lenny Barnes opened his first iSold It drop shop -- which is part of a national franchise -- in Weymouth. He plans to open five more on the South Shore over the next three years.

''In a few years these shops will be everywhere -- like Starbucks," he said.

But some analysts note that many people may not be so quick to jump on the trading bandwagon. Allan Steinmetz, founder of Inward Strategic Consulting in Newton, calls this trading phenomenon a ''transition transaction."

''Some people don't consider used goods a 'deal' regardless of the price," he said. ''A lot of people want to try on clothing before buying it."

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