How Other People’s Unwanted Gifts Can Become Big Bargains for You

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Many of the millions of returned gifts won't go back on the store shelves from which they came. Here's how you can find treasures among them at steep discounts.

Too many blenders! Smart TVs that owners are too dumb to use! Wrong-size sweaters!

With Christmas over, millions of unwanted gifts are being returned to stores and online retailers, and that can mean burgeoning bargain opportunities for you.

Much of the billions in returned merchandise won’t go back on the store shelves from which they came, according to media reports. An industry of middlemen, technology firms and discount sellers is ready to sell you many of these goods at a discount.

The weeks after Christmas are their busiest time, says the Los Angeles Times.

“It is crazy how many returns come in during the two to three months after Christmas,” Michael Ringelsten, owner of Shorewood Liquidators Inc., told the Wall Street Journal. His 91-person business operates two large warehouses packed with returned merchandise from retailers including Amazon, Groupon and Home Depot.

Centralized returns centers offer some items themselves and often resell in bulk at deep discounts to liquidators and small businesses.

“We call that ‘re-commerce,’ where products get a second life,” said Ryan Kelly, a vice president of strategy at Genco, a FedEx Corp. business that handles returns for many U.S. retailers.

He says there is strong demand for children’s toys, sporting goods, housewares and consumer electronics.

Generous return policies from retailers like Amazon-owned Zappos, Macy’s, Target, Saks and Gap make it easier than ever to return dresses that don’t fit, the extra pairs of shoes a customer ordered to try on with the intention of buying just one pair, or the drone that does not seem to work as advertised.

If a new device takes more than 15 minutes for a user to figure out, that item is highly likely to be returned, Tobin Moore told The New York Times. Moore is the chief executive of Optoro, which offers retailers alternative ways to resell, recycle or donate returned merchandise.

So how do you take advantage?

Chains such as Gap and Neiman Marcus sell many returned goods at their own outlet stores. Best Buy offers refurbished, damaged and open-box gadgets in sections of its own stores and online at Best Buy Outlet.

Optoro sells high-value products like baby goods, power tools or tablets on its own discount site, Blinq.com. Bulk products are routed to another site, Bulq.com, where pawn shops, dollar stores and flea markets can purchase merchandise by the pallet.

Shorewood sorts through returned merchandise, such as pingpong tables, jewelry, bicycles and vintage auto parts and lists many in online auctions on eBay or the company’s own website.

B-Stock, which helps unload returns and excess merchandise for Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot, sells them to discount store operators, including RJs Discount Sales based in Topeka, Kansas.

How good are the deals?

The Journal reported that Shorewood sold six pairs of Beats Studio headphones for prices ranging from $50 to $150. (These headphones normally retail for $200-$300, depending on the model.) It also sold an Everlast exercise machine with scuffs and scratches for $17. A returned living room sofa set valued at $1,100 retail went for $300.

Where do you look for post-holidays bargains? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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