top of page

How Does Goodwill Outlet Work?

Goodwill Outlet stores are unlike any other thrift store you’ve ever experienced and if you’ve never been to one, you might be wondering how the whole process works.

So, how does Goodwill Outlet work? Goodwill Outlet Stores receive donations and put them out for sale at their retail locations. Items that don’t sell at retail are then shipped off to Outlet stores where they are sold by the pound and liquidated for quick sale.

That is a really simple explanation of how Goodwill Outlet stores work but there is a whole lot more to it! Here is a step-by-step break down of how you donations travel through the Goodwill ecosystem.

Table of ContentsToggle

Donated Items: From Your Car to Goodwill Retail Shelves

There are over 3,300 Goodwill retail stores across the country and it’s estimated that 2,000 items are put out on each Goodwill retail store shelves every day! They process millions of pounds of textiles every year. That’s a lot of donations!

When you donate your items, Goodwill employees process everything to see what can be sold and what needs to be discarded. Discarded goods are either recycled and disposed of properly.

Items typically stay on Goodwill store shelves for about 4-6 weeks. During that time, Goodwill puts on various sales to try to discount and sell them at the retail store. Most sales are based on the color tag or sticker (which they use to indicate how old the item is). If they remain unsold after that time, the items are pulled from the shelves and sent to the Goodwill Outlet.

Items Are Sent to Goodwill Outlet Stores & Dispersed Into Blue Bins

Goodwill Outlet stores are often balled “Blue Bin Stores” because of their large blue bins that items are dumped into for buyers to dig through. These bins are approximately 9 feet by 4 feet and are used for almost everything except furniture.

Most stores do not sort items by type, except for clothing and linens. You will usually see kids toys mixed in with household items and so on. There could literally be anything in the bins!

Rules for Shopping at Goodwill Outlet

Shopping at Goodwill Outlet stores can quickly turn into chaos so it’s important to know the rules. Every store has their own guidelines, but they all pretty much follow the same process. You can usually find the rules posted on the wall as soon as you walk in so make sure that you read through them out when you arrive at your location. How rules are enforced will vary depending on the store.

  1. You must wait for the bins to be put in place and wheels are locked by the Goodwill employee before approaching.

  2. Goodwill shopping carts are the only containers allowed in the store. You are not allowed to bring in other bags or containers to carry items.

  3. Merchandise is not allowed in the store.

  4. Purchases must be removed from the store following each transaction. This is a “cash-and-carry” policy that requires you to remove all items from the store at the time of purchase. Items will not be put on hold or marked as SOLD.

  5. Only Goodwill transactions are allowed in the store. You cannot resell something you just bought in the store. If someone wants to buy something off you, you must vacate the premises.

  6. Children should be accompanied and monitored by an adult.

Once the bins have been out for a specific period of time (it’s different at every store), someone will come on the PA system and let the store know which aisle of bins will be removed and replaced next. This is your last chance to go through and find any treasures that might have been missed.

Once new bins have been rolled out and put in place, people will likely line both sides of the bins trying to get a peek at the new merchandise that was brought out. However, shoppers are prohibited from approaching or touching the bins until they are in place, locked, and given permission by the Goodwill employee.

Once the go-ahead is given, people will start scrambling to find all the new treasures in the bing, grabbing as many things that they can. Due to the number of people, there isn’t a whole lot of room for carts. This is where it would be a good idea to have two people with you so that one person can stay with the cart.

It’s also a good idea to wear gloves as your digging through the bins. We’ve heard stories of people cutting their hands on unseen broken glass. You just never know what you might find in the bins and you’ll wish you were wearing cut resistant gloves.

The Bin Rotation Schedule

The great thing about Goodwill Outlet stores is they constantly bring out new merchandise throughout the day. So it really doesn’t matter what time you go, you always have a chance at getting your hands on a treasure that hasn’t been sitting there all day.

Each store has a different bin rotation schedule. Some switch out bins at the top of every hour, others might only do it every 3 hours. You will need to contact your local outlet store to find out what their rotation schedule is. The great thing about bin rotations is the items that are on the sales floor when the store opens will not be there at 3:00 pm!

When you make your visit to Goodwill Outlet, plan on being there for a few hours. You should give yourself time to be there for at least 1 or 2 bin rotations so that you can see as much merchandise as possible.

It almost becomes an addiction waiting for the next bin to come out!

Paying by the Pound

Pricing will be different at every store. Some stores might have a flat rate per pound or they might have a tiered pricing table where the more you buy the cheaper the cost. Usually, there will be signs posted around the store indicating the pricing per pound.

If you want to save even more money, you can lessen the weight by not buying what you don’t need. If the item you found comes in a box and you don’t need it, take out what you want and leave the rest. There is no use in paying for the weight of the box when you don’t need it.

Also, if your an online reseller, one great way to find items to resell is to look for small appliances like food processors. Sometimes it’s better to sell parts off the unit instead of selling the whole unit. The motor base of those units don’t always sell as well, so just take all the parts (bowl, lid, chopping blade, etc) and leave the heavy base. This will save you a lot of money and you won’t be paying for something you’ll end up throwing away anyway.

Once you’ve found your treasures, you’re ready to check out. You will simply roll your entire shopping cart on to a large scale and a screen will tell you how much weight you need to pay for. The scale has already been calibrated to account for the weight of the cart itself so you’re only paying for the weight of the items you found.

You’ll need to check with your store about what forms of payment they accept. Our closest Goodwill Outlet used to be cash only but recently switched to included credit cards. Additionally, Goodwill Outlet stores do not bag your items. However, they might provide a table with bags where you can do it yourself. It’s also a good idea to put some totes or bins in your car to hold all of your finds.

What Happens to Items After the Outlet Store?

Items that remain unsold after being at the bins are then recycled or sent to auction. Textiles are bundled and recycled or made into new things. Electronics are sent to an E-cycle facility for safe recycling.

Some locations have an auction for unsold items as their last-ditch effort to find a home for merchandise.

Related Questions

Does the Salvation Army have pay by the pound stores? Salvation Army has one pay by the pound store and a few locations that have weekly pay by the pound sales. You can learn more on our post about Salvation Army Pay by the Pound locations.

How many goodwill outlet stores are there? While it’s difficult to track when new stores open and old stores close, we estimate that there are about 103 Goodwill Outlet stores in the United States.

bottom of page