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Secrets to Shopping at Pay By the Pound Thrift Stores

If you’ve never been to a pay by the pound thrift store, you’re probably wondering what in the world that is and how it works! Many thrifters and online resellers love these places because they can get goods for dirt cheap prices.

I’ve heard of many people who walked into a Goodwill Outlet or similar pound store and turned around and walked out because they had know idea what was going on. It’s is definitely a different experience from any other type of thrift store you’ve ever been too, that’s for sure!

Whether you just love the experience of thrift shopping and want to try something new or you’re an online reseller looking for items to make a profit, pay by the pound thrift stores are for you!

Before you make the trip to your nearest pay by the pound store, here are a few things you need to consider.

Shopping at a pay by the pound store is not for you if:

  1. you’re looking for a relaxing day of thrift shopping

  2. you just got a fresh manicure

  3. you prefer shelves & racks that are clean and neat

  4. you don’t like crowds

  5. you don’t want to have to dig to find a treasure

  6. you’re in a rush and don’t have much time

If none of the above things bother you, here are some secrets to making your trip profitable!

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Protect Yourself From Thieves

It’s not unheard of for people to see a cart and start shopping out of it, whether intentionally or unknowing that it belongs to someone else already. We’ve had it happen to us and so have a lot of other people.

You should bring a sheet (bassinet sheets work really well because they stretch over the cart perfectly) to cover you cart. You can also look for a sheet, table cloth or blanket in the bins to cover your picks with.

Some stores don’t allow you to keep your cart with you as you dig through a new row, so you should put your cart by a wall and cover it with your blanket to signal that it belongs to someone else and hopefully no one will touch it.

If you find something that you think is very valuable, just pay for it and take it out to your car and come back to do the rest of your shopping.

Grab Now, Look Closer Later

Shopping pay by the pound stores is pretty fast paced and you don’t have a whole lot of time to second guess yourself. If you see something you like or are interested in, just put it in your cart to look at later. If you hesitate, someone else will grab it and you’ll have lost your chance. You can always put things back later.

In between bin rotations or when your cart is full, pull off to the side where there aren’t as many people (usually in the furniture area), you can start going through what you picked up. It’s a great idea to grab another cart and put the items that you want to keep into it.

This will be the time to take a closer look for flaws, stains, broken pieces, missing pieces, etc. If you’re also a reseller, you will use this time to research and make sure that you can profit from the item.

Don’t be afraid to put stuff back, but also remember that other people are doing the same thing. It’s always a good idea to go back to the bins you’ve already looked at and you might find something else!

Bring Bags (if it’s allowed)

Some stores don’t allow you to use any other container to carry items other than their shopping carts. Bummer! Carts can become very cumbersome and in the way, so if you store allows it, always bring bags to carry your goods in. A lot of people like to use IKEA bags because they’re durable and can hold a lot of stuff!

It’s also a good idea, even if you have a cart, to look for tote bags or other lightweight bags to put small items in. This will help keep things from falling out of your cart and it conceals them from other onlookers.

Jump In & Don’t Be Intimidated

Some pay by the pound thrift stores are bigger than others, giving more opportunity and space. For smaller locations, you can’t be shy when bins come out. You’ll have to jump in and stand your ground. You don’t have to be rude, just claim your space and don’t be intimidated.

Be prepared that other people won’t always be so nice. There are ornery, rude people that shop these thrift stores too and you can’t let that deter you if you want to shop there. Some people have referred to the bins are “cutthroat” which it can be at times, but you don’t have to participate in the rudeness… be kind but firm.

You have to think of it as Black Friday… you have to jump in and grab the stuff you want. If you don’t, you could miss out on something great. If this is too high stress for you, pay by the pound stores might not be the best place for you.

Know What You’re Looking For

If you’re looking for clothing to resell, you should have a good idea of what brands to pick out. The same goes for other items as well. From electronics to household goods to clothing, you should have a good idea of what is hot. Otherwise, you might pass up something that could be a huge money maker for you.

We often spend some time before a trip to the outlet refreshing our memory on the things we’re looking for. We’ll even write a paper list just to jog our memory from time to time so that we aren’t getting distracted with things that aren’t worth it.

On the other hand, you should go with an open mind and not under estimate anything. Let your gut lead a little bit. If you see something and think it might have some value, just grab it and look it up later.

To Wear Gloves or Not to Wear Gloves…

No matter what, you should always bring gloves with you to the pay by the pound thrift store. The important thing to know is WHEN to wear them, not IF you should wear them.

When you’re digging through general housewares and miscellaneous merchandise, you should ALWAYS wear gloves. Due to the nature of pay by the pound shopping, with everything just dumped into bins, things get thrown around and broken. There are horror stories of people reaching in and cutting themselves on broken glass or something sharp. This is too dangerous to take the risk. Also, it’s not uncommon to find some gross things in the bins that you just wouldn’t want to touch with your bare skin.

When you’re digging through the clothing bins, you might not want to wear gloves. A lot of people want to be able to feel the fabrics and quality of the material to determine if it’s something they want to pick up. You should still be careful though… you never know what gets thrown in there or what might be in the pockets of some clothing.

If you’ve decided not to wear glove, you should definitely keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in your car and be sure not to touch your face until you’ve cleaned your hands.

Have Patience

If you’re not comfortable with getting right in there on the action when the new bins come out, you can stand back and go through other bins in peace while the rest attack the new stuff.

Some people agree that there is nothing worth fighting over and it’s better to just stay away from the mob.

Many people find just as much after waiting for the mob to go thorugh. Additionally, it gives you more opportunity to get through the other bins while everyone else is waiting for the new bins to become available. People tend to pick up and throw, completely passing over some less obvious treasures.

Make A Plan

A lot of people suggest arriving early when they open, however, this is usually the time when ther is a line waiting out the door. It really depends on whether you want to be part of the crowd or not.

If you’re like us, your closest pay by the pound thrift store will be a couple of hours away, making your trip a day-long experience is best. If you’re traveling that far, you want to make the most of your time. The bin rotation schedule plays a role in this too. If the bins are only rotated every couple of hours, you’ll want to at least stay for a couple of hours.

If you’re planning on being there for a long time, you should bring food and water for the day.

Some people like to do more shorter trips. This is convenient if you live really close to the pay by the pound store. You could plan your trip around the rotation schedule and only plan to stay for a half-hour or so.

Dig, Dig, Dig!

Most of the treasures are NOT sitting right on top with big shiny arrows pointing them out to you! 🙂 The treasures that are sitting right on top are being grabbed up as soon as the mob descends on the bins.

You have to be willing to dig (which is why we recommend gloves). We always find good things on the bottom of the bins. A lot of people are going so fast that they unintentionally pass over good items and completely miss them.

You should take a little extra time to look at everything. Even if you’ve been through all the bins, go back and look again. I always find things I missed the first time around.

Look Inside Things

If you’re a reseller, you almost have to think of pay by the pound stores like going through a storage unit. Always look inside pockets, purses, bags, containers etc. We’ve heard of people finding money or other small valuables inside things.

Test Electronics & Toys

Don’t worry about testing things until after you’ve finished going through the bins. Electronics tend to be pretty heavy, so it’s not likely worth the risk to buy it without testing. Some toys might be light enough that you can just grab them and if they don’t work, you won’t be out too much.

Most pay by the pound thrift stores will have a wall outlet that you can use to test electronics. Some people even bring batteries and a small screwdriver to test battery operated items.

In our opinion, if it’s really lightweight, we just buy it and test when we get home. This way we’re not wasting too much time testing everything.

Don’t Forget Your Phone

If you’re a reseller, make sure that your phone is fully charged and ready for researching your finds. You should research everything to make sure that they’re worth buying. If your phone doesn’t stay charged very long, you can get yourself a power bank and keep your phone plugged in on the go.

Make sure you have all your apps ready; eBay, Amazon, a book scanner, calculator, etc.

It’s Okay to be Friendly

Being friendly with people really lightens the mood and helps to ease any tension. Everyone there is trying to get a deal before anyone else does, but that doesn’t mean people have to be rude about it.

Don’t be afraid to find out what other people are into… if you find something that their looking for, they might just keep an eye out for the things you’re looking for.

Just be careful about when you strike up a conversation with someone. When people are in the zone and they’re sorting and picking, don’t interrupt… there is nothing more annoying. However, when you’re standing around waiting for the next bins to be rotated, that’s a great time to get to know people.

Follow the Rules

Make sure you know the rules and follow them. Most pay by the pound thrift stores have very specific rules for when new bins are brought out. Some even tape a line that you have to stay behind and you cannot touch anything until they say you can. If you don’t follow the rules, you will be reprimanded sharply!

Every store has their own guidelines so make sure you look or ask someone as soon as you arrive. Normally the policies are posted on the walls so make sure that you read through them.

You will likely be given some warning as to when the next set of bins will be replaced. This will be your last chance to find any treasures that you may have missed.

When the new bins have been placed, most people will line both sides of the row waiting for the go-ahead to start digging. Shoppers are prohibited from approaching or touching the bins until they are in place, locked, and given permission by the Goodwill employee.

Look for Stuff You’ll Use too

Don’t forget to look for all the practical items you can use as well. Think such as cotton balls, Q-tips, etc. Just make sure you’re picking up something that’s in a sealed in a new package.

You can also keep an eye out for potential gifts, birthday presents, Christmas presents, etc.

Just make sure to think about the weight… you wouldn’t want to spend more on the item at the outlet store than if you were to buy it new in the store.

Use a Practical Purse

Carrying a purse can be dangerous for two reasons, 1) some people have had their purses stolen and, 2) you might accidentally set it down and leave it in one of the bins.

You should only bring the bare minimum necessities. If you need to carry a purse, make sure to bring a cross-body purse or a fanny pack to hold your wallet and phone.

Have fun!

Last but not least, make sure you have fun. If you aren’t having fun, you aren’t doing it right!

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