How to Thrift Shop at Goodwill Outlets
Since I started reselling things online several years ago, I’ve found lots of resellable clothes and accessories from Goodwill stores in my city. Goodwill stores are a convenient and fun place to find items, but their prices keep going up. That compelled me to look into other ways to source items faster and cheaper. After hearing about the great finds and super low prices of Goodwill outlets AKA the bins, I decided to take a trip there myself to see what I could find. So today I want to share with you my experience shopping at a Goodwill outlet and tips for how to make the most of a visit there.
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The Basics of the Bins
Each Goodwill outlet runs differently, so what I’ve written here applies to many but not all outlets.
Outlet items come from various sources. Some outlets receive donations directly on site. Some outlets only sell items that are returned from area Goodwill stores. These items were for sale but weren’t bought. I like to think it’s because the stores priced them too high. You’ll sometimes see items in the bins with store price tags on them. These were items that were returned unsold.
You’ll find a wide variety of items depending on the outlet. The outlet I visited mostly sold clothes with a few bins of other random items. Other outlets have clothing, household goods, shoes, books, and more.
Items are sold by the pound instead of per item. Pricing at the outlet I visited was $1.79/lb for goods from 1-20 pounds. It was $1.59/lb to 50 lbs and even cheaper after that. I’ve heard of other outlets with even lower prices than that!
A Google search may your best bet to find out if there’s an outlet near you. You can also use this store locator, but it’s not as up-to-date as Google, particularly when it comes to reporting new stores opening or stores closing.
My Experience Shopping the Bins
I visited the outlet in Burlingame, CA one weekday morning when I was off from work. I wanted to avoid the weekend, when more people would be there. The warehouse was in a more industrial area and didn’t look like anything special from the outside. In fact, the parking lot had huge cartons of clothes around with people sifting through them and employees transporting cartons using forklifts.
The setup inside the warehouse consisted of about 5 rows of 4 bins each full of clothing to one side. A couple more bins of household items were against another wall, and two bins full of shoes were out in the middle of the floor. I was expecting the outlet to be bigger from what I’d seen of other outlets online, but it was well-run and not crowded at all.
I counted about 20 other shoppers during my time there. They seemed to all know each other or be at least familiar with each other. I heard some talk of platforms to sell on and whether or not this item or that would sell.
One row of bins was changed out every 20-30 minutes. Everyone lined up nearby when they saw that the bins were being switched out. Once given the okay to go through the bins, they ran to find a spot and sifted through the clothes quickly. Then they took their finds back to their carts on the side to look them over.
I watched this go on during the first switching of the bins and then joined in the next few times. I was happy to see that everyone was respectful of each other. I didn’t see any aggressive shoppers or fights break out over items.
I spent almost 2 hours at the outlet and came back with eight items. I found a few of the items on my own, but my best finds were the ones that other shoppers didn’t want and threw back into the bins.
The other shoppers were definitely more seasoned at outlet shopping than I was. I think they arrived at opening because by the time I arrived mid-morning, many of them had large piles of clothes ready to purchase. Some shoppers even had lawn chairs set up for relaxing and snacks to eat during their breaks! How crazy is that?
My Thrift Finds
I found 8 items for $11.84. That’s less than $1.50 per item. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I did the math. I can’t find anything priced that low at Goodwill stores or any thrift store in the city.
I also found a cute and comfortable Athleta top. Unfortunately, it showed some damage to the material after I ran it through the washing machine. It wasn’t in good enough condition to sell or wear myself anymore. I can’t be too mad though because It was so cheap and I’m bound to buy duds every once in a while.
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Tips for Outlet Shopping
Read up on your Goodwill outlet locations before you go. You can get an idea of how things work at the outlet you’re planning to visit. Some outlets are very competitive. You’ll need fast hands and grit to find the good stuff. Think of holiday shopping for that one hot toy of the season. Some outlets switch out their bins more frequently than others. Some sell primarily clothing and shoes while others have lots of non-clothing items.
Set aside at least a few hours to shop. Unless you get lucky, it takes time to find a good amount of resellable clothes. You have to wait around for the bins to be switched out and then dig through them all. I’ve heard of people spending all morning or even the entire day at an outlet. If you decide to spend more than a few hours, bring a bottle of water and a snack to keep yourself energized.
Bring bags or containers to carry your purchases. More and more outlets don’t provide bags at checkout anymore. It’s much easier to transport your items in your own bags or containers rather than carrying everything in your arms. I noticed some people brought large plastic tubs to transport their goods. One woman filled garbage bags and moved them through the aisles in a baby stroller.
Be prepared to get dirty or dusty. Outlets are dirty even if they appear clean. It’s common to see shoppers wearing gloves and sometimes face masks. Hand sanitizer is a good alternative if you don’t have the other two items. Beyond that, wear casual clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and close-toed shoes.
Keep your hands as free as possible. You don’t want to be dealing with holding onto a purse while digging through the bins. A crossbody purse, waist pack, or backpack are better options as is carrying your wallet in your pocket. I noticed that some shoppers carried large tote bags (like those big blue IKEA bags) and put items right into them as they moved through the bins.
Keep an eye on your finds. At the outlet I visited, shoppers put their finds in shopping carts lined up along one wall and covered the carts with towels or bedsheets. I didn’t see anyone try to take things from the people’s carts, but I have heard of it happening at other outlets. It pays to keep an eye on your cart and cover it to keep wandering hands from taking your finds.
Look at other shoppers rejects. My best finds were actually things that the more seasoned shoppers threw back into the bins. During one of the longer breaks, several of the shoppers went through their carts and returned what they didn’t want. I stayed nearby taking a look at their rejects, and that’s how I found the Eddie Bauer and Market & Spruce jackets mentioned above.
Outlet shopping is very different from shopping Goodwill stores. Thrift store shopping is a fairly even keel experience. I sort through one rack to the next without stopping until I cover a store or I have to leave. When I’m done browsing, I review my finds to decide which ones to keep and which ones to put back. Then I pay and leave. Sometimes I shop for 20 minutes and at other times 2 hours, but I’m always on the move doing something while shopping.
Outlet shopping is a stop-and-go activity full of rushing and then waiting. I rushed with everyone else to grab the good stuff in the bins when they came out, then waited around for the next round when everything was picked over. You have to accept that pace if you’re going to spend hours there looking for resellable items.
Also, when I shop at Goodwill stores, I feel like I’m having a normal shopping experience as I would have at a retail store. When the outlet employee gave the all-clear for everyone to search the new bins, I felt like a scavenger diving into a trash bin to forage whatever is salvageable. I’m not sure if that feeling will go away as I visit the outlets more often, but I hope it does because prices are great and make it worth visiting, which leads to my other takeaway…
The outlets are soooo much cheaper than Goodwill stores! I know the low prices are obvious. That’s why people go to the outlets in the first place. Still, I was amazed when I saw how inexpensive each item was and calculated how much more profit I could potentially make.
The Eddie Bauer jacket cost me about $1.50, whereas it would have likely been between $15-$25 at my nearby Goodwill stores. That could be $20 more profit from just that one item.
My nearby Goodwill now marks up every Lululemon item to $9.99 no matter the condition. I saw a new Lululemon wallet for sale there for $30 just this past weekend. Purses regularly go for $25-$50 even if they’re in poor condition. Compare that to finding clothes for maybe $0.50 or even $2.00 at the bins. The bins offer the lowest price sourcing around.
Shopping the bins is not for the faint-hearted, whether due to time, distance, the germ factor, or something else. But if you’re unfazed by outlet shopping, you can find great items to resell and make more profit as a seller. I’m already planning my next visit!
Have you shopped at Goodwill Outlets before? What was your experience like? What tips would you give to those new to the bins?