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What is the Difference Between Goodwill Outlet and Retail?

You’ll probably come across a lot of people who have never heard of a Goodwill Outlet Store. We certainly hadn’t and our first question was, what’s the difference between a retail and outlet store?

So what is the difference between Goodwill Outlet and retail? Goodwill outlet stores are where items go after they’ve sat on retail shelves. Items are sold by the pound as one last chance before they are recycled or destroyed. The Goodwill retail store is the first stop for your donated goods.

The concept of buying goods by the pound is foreign to a lot of people so understanding how a pay by the pound store works can be a little confusing. Hopefully, we can help you get a better understanding of the differences in this article.

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How Goodwill Retail Stores Work

With over 3,300 Goodwill retail stores, there is a lot of secondhand goods being donated. Goodwill is one of the largest and most popular thrift stores in the country and they process millions of pounds of textiles per year. In fact, according to, most of their stores put out 2,000 new items on the shelves and racks every day!

In the last couple of years, Goodwill has also started setting up Donation Bins in convenient locations around your town where you can easily drop your donations.

When Goodwill receives your donations, they are processed to see which can be sold on shelves and which can not. For items that cannot be resold, they are either recycled, properly disposed of, or traded with other thrift stores in the area for clothing and household goods.

Items that end up on Goodwill retail shelves usually stay there for about four to six weeks before being moved on to the next step of the process. During those four to six week, items will often go on sale as a last ditch effort to sell them.

At Goodwill retail stores, clothing is priced based on the type of item. For example, in our area, jeans are $5.88, shirts are $3.88, t-shirts are 2.88, etc. Everything for sale has a color-coded barb or sticker. Each week, one of those colors is on sale (usually 50% off for the week and then one day of the week might be $0.44 day for that color – at least that’s how they do it in our area).

Items that are considered more valuable are giving a special price tag that is more expensive than the normal prices. These items never get discounted and are an annoyance to many thrifters. Sometimes, the Goodwill store will put these specialty items on a separate rack but most of the time they are mixed in with all the other items.

Most Goodwill have a 3-day return policy on electronics and clothing but you have to prove that the items are non-working or defective. In our area, you can return Goodwill items to any Goodwill location in your region (not just the store you purchased the item at).

How Goodwill Outlet Stores Work

Items that remained unsold after being at Goodwill retail stores for about four to six weeks are then sent to the Goodwill Outlet store where they are given a last chance at finding a new home.

That doesn’t mean that these items are junk. Most of the time, these items were priced too high at the retail store and never found someone willing the pay the price.

The goal of the Goodwill Outlet store is to keep as many items out of the landfill as possible, therefore items are liquidated at cheap per pound prices.

Merchandise is shipped from retail stores to the outlet stores where they are dumped into large blue bins. These which are rotated throughout the day on the sales floor. People are allowed to dig through the items in the bins to find their treasures. Shoppers fill their carts with treasures and then their carts are weighed and merchandise is billed based on the per pound price. Each location has different pricing so you’ll need to find out what the pricing is at your nearest location.

The goodwill Outlet also sells goods (like furniture, books, small appliances, etc.) are extremely discounted prices. For example, you might just find a couch for $5.00. Things that don’t fit in a blue bin to be paid by the pound are greatly reduced.

Please share your favorite location(s) and their per pound pricing in the comments. We’d love to be able to share this information with our readers to help everyone out!

Some outlet stores sort their items and some don’t. Locations that don’t sort items might be better because it’s easier to miss the treasures. If you have a good eye, you can get your hands on more things that other people miss.

If you have OCD, this certainly isn’t the place for you. Everything is mostly a mess and almost nothing is orderly. You’ll have to dig and dig to make sure you see everything and find the deals. You want to wear cut resistant gloves to make sure you don’t hurt yourself when digging through the bins.

The atmosphere of Goodwill Outlet stores is a little more intense too! There are a lot of people swarming to find the same great deals that you’re looking for. For this reason, you will need to watch your cart like a hawk. It’s not uncommon for some people to swipe your finds right out of your cart. Many people carry a bassinet sheet with to cover their cart so it’s more difficult to see in. Additionally, it’s a good idea to keep your kids at home. It’ll be difficult to keep track of them and they’ll likely get in the way (and could get hurt).

Item’s at the Goodwill Outlet are sold “as-is” and cannot be returned. They also have a cash and carry policy which means if you buy a couch, you have to remove it from their facility at the time of purchase. Most outlets will not hold it for you to pick up later.

The Benefits of Shopping by the Pound

Huge discounts. Pay by the pound stores are so much cheaper than regular retail store. There are no special price tags with higher prices. This is the place to liquidate so they just want to get rid of stuff.

Great for resellers. People who sell on Amazon and/or eBay find pay by the pound stores to be great places to source items for resale. They can keep their cost low which will make for larger profit margins.

Buy only what you want. For example, maybe you happened to find a food processor but you only need the chopping blade, not the whole unit. At pay by the pound stores, you’re not obligated to buy the whole unit. You can simply grab what you need and leave the rest.

Keep items out of landfills. Goodwill receives donations for over 101 Million people in the United States and Canada. That’s a lot of stuff. They take multiple steps to find new homes for these second hand items so that they aren’t filling the landfills.

Constant stream of new merchandise. Anyone who goes to regular thrift stores consistently will get used to seeing the same items sit on the shelves for weeks. You don’t have to worry about that with pay by the pound stores. New merchandise is rotated on the sales floor throughout the day.

Related Questions

What does Goodwill do with stuff they don’t sell? Items that remain unsold after spending time in the retail locations are sent on to Goodwill Outlet stores. Items that are sill left over go on to auction or recyclers.

Best time to go to Goodwill bins? We recommend learning your location’s bin rotation schedule and finding out when their busy times are. Go when there isn’t as much competition and when you can hit 1-2 new bin rotations during your visit.

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