How to score cheap stuff (to keep or resell)

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How often do you buy a bunch of stuff online, planning to only keep your favorites? I shop for clothes this way, for sure — and I’m not the only one. Returns cost retailers $743 billion last year.

If you’ve ever wondered, “What happens to all those returns?” the answer is interesting. I did the research and found the best places where you can score deals on other people’s “no, thank you” items.

Wait, how does that work?

Let’s take Amazon as an example. Any package that’s undeliverable and unclaimed for 90 days is fair game. Amazon sells unclaimed goods on its website. Pro tip: Some items have crazy delivery charges tacked on, so check before you get excited about a deal.

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The same goes for packages from other retailers sent through the U.S. Postal Service. After 90 days, they’re sold to the highest bidder.

Like a garage sale but better

The USPS contracts with a website to auction off things postal workers can’t deliver. Go to GovDeals.com to browse everything from TVs to vehicles to kitchen appliances.

Liquidation.com hawks packages and undelivered goods from Amazon, Target, Walmart and The Home Depot. You can filter by brand or retailer.

Many of these deals are for items sold in lots, like this one with 57 pairs of Sony headphones. Hello, side hustle!

Amazon-Photo-Illustration

The Amazon logo is being displayed on a smartphone screen and on a computer screen in Athens, Greece, on May 14, 2024.  (Photo by Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Feeling mysterious?

Some returned and undeliverable merch is packaged into “mystery boxes,” which are like grab bags. You don’t know precisely what you’ll get, but the idea is you’ll find a few valuable items you want to keep or sell.

Sound like fun? Try Poshmark. Search for “mystery box” and you’ll find listings for returns from retailers like Walmart and Amazon, ranging in price from a few bucks to hundreds of dollars. For $50, this seller will send you eight items and let you make requests from their 20,000 listings.

eBay

Unsurprisingly, eBay is more of a buyer-beware situation. These are mystery packages, items that couldn’t get to the customer and returned things. Just type “unclaimed packages” or a similar term in the search bar on the site and see what comes up.

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Facebook Marketplace

Facebook Marketplace makes it easy to buy things locally. Meet the seller to pick up your purchases at a public place or even the police station and skip all the shipping headaches. It never hurts to bring a friend, either. Just as you would on eBay, search for “unclaimed packages.” 

Bonus: Unclaimed Baggage

Unclaimed Baggage dates back to 1970 and has an agreement with airlines to purchase lost luggage. Rather than providing an unwelcome surprise (think of a bag filled with dirty laundry or worse), this site opens the bags, checks the contents and cleans them.

Package-Deliveries-As-Cyber-Monday-Deals-Hit

A United States Postal Service (USPS) worker delivers packages on Cyber Monday in San Francisco, California, US, on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023.  (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The baggage is available online or at the company’s store in Scottsboro, Alabama.

Read this before you buy

While there’s a fun factor that comes with the mystery, don’t expect to open a package and find gold (literally or figuratively). There’s usually a reason that an item was returned or never accepted by the buyer.

Many of these products have been sitting in a warehouse for a while and the owners want to get rid of them. There’s no guarantee of condition or functionality. What you get is what you get, and your chances of return or refund are close to zero if that.

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It truly is a buyer-beware situation, as the products are typically not checked or inspected. Nobody will know if there’s a dangerous item in the box until it’s opened. As with any online purchase, check customer reviews and seller ratings before making any moves. Ask for photos if you don’t see any.

The sites listed above are established and generally safe, but scammers and thieves can use these platforms just like anyone else. If you’re asked for payment in the form of cryptocurrency or gift cards, run and block the seller. This is an all-too-common and scammy practice.

Want to make money? 

Postal-law-reform

A view of packages stacked on a trolley on June 11, 2024, in Germany. (Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Buying and reselling items is a smart way to do it. I put together a step-by-step guide to help you out. (It’s totally free!)

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