Professional Thrifting Tips: Surviving the Goodwill Outlet


In earlier posts, Emily discusses both beginner and intermediate thrifting tips. Today I get down to the nitty-gritty about thrifting at the Goodwill Outlet, which is not for the faint of heart. Some might even say that the Goodwill Outlet is NOT even for the novice thrfiter, and I tend to agree. In fact, I'm a die-hard thrifter and it took a few trips before I was hooked.

A brief explanation of how a typical Goodwill store works is necessary here. So, the Goodwill Outlet is the last stop in the journey of donated second-hand items. This journey begins when the item is donated - either to a brick and mortar store, a donation center, or to a free-standing donation bin often seen in the parking lots of grocery and other stores. Either way, the items end up being sorted by the semi-trained Goodwill behind-the-scenes employees. These employees are the gatekeepers so to speak - they sort and price the items that are donated based on a rudimentary system that varies store by store. This is why the items at say, a Goodwill in a more wealthy, are priced differently than those in a less affluent neighborhood. Goodwill employees have a list of designer labels and price-points for each. They also have guidelines for "boutique" items, which is why you'll often see new with tags items from Walmart brands next to bonafide designer pieces. After being sorted, priced and color coded, the items are placed on the sales floor where they remain for up to one month. Once a week a new color goes on 50% sales to make room for the constant influx of fresh items. SO where do items go if they don't sell, even at 50% off? The Goodwill Outlet! It's sort of like a second-hand item's purgatory. If an item doesn't sell at the Goodwill Outlet - it goes to hell. Kidding. Seriously - if items don't sell at the Goodwill outlet they are either bundled and shipped to third world countries as clothing, they are compacted and salvaged (sent to landfills), or sometimes they are even sold as fabric to places that make rag rugs! Occasionally items donated actually circumvent the sorting and pricing steps altogether and are sent directly to the Goodwill Outlet. This is at the discretion of Goodwill store managers and often occurs when the volume of items that need to be sorted exceeds the manpower to complete the task.

Okay so now that you have a cursory understanding of how items end up at a Goodwill Outlet, lets DIVE into what happens once they're there. Pun intended!

Items arrive at the Goodwill Outlet after being discarded by the regular Goodwill retail stores. They are already semi-sorted but before the BINS are brought out they are further sorted into a few categories:

  • Clothing and fabric items
  • Shoes
  • Glassware
  • Luggage
  • Furniture
  • Appliances
  • Book/Magazines/Records
  • Accessories (Purses, belts, ties)
  • Miscellaneous (EVERYTHING)

Once sorted items are wheeled out onto the sales floor. The bins are rotated approximately once per hour. Pricing items individually isn't neccessary because a flat, per pound price is charged. The more you buy, the cheaper it is! Seems fairly simple right? WRONG! Here's were thrfiting goes from being a novice level activity to a PROFESSIONAL one. There are many unspoken rules at "The Bins," which is what the regulars call the Goodwill Outlet. Some of these rules are enforced by store management and fellow shoppers, while others are more common sense than common law. Here's a rundown:

1. Shop at your own risk - some people opt to wear rubber gloves while digging through the bins and I've even seen a face mask or two.

2. DON'T touch anything in the bins until all they're all rolled out, usually in groups of 4 or more.

3. Be polite. Give other shoppers their personal space. Don't remove things from other people's carts. Don't get into a tug-of-war over items. Don't be greedy.

To be continued...

In our next post we'll share personal stories of heroism from the bins in Hamden, CT!