Goodwill employees share secrets to shop like a pro


What's going on with those Goodwill 'mystery boxes?'

One of the bargain shopping queens' favorite places to hold court is Goodwill. If you know how to play the game – days to shop, tag colors, brand values, etc. – you can score big time.

But with the economy the way it is, there’s a whole new crowd of shoppers showing up at Goodwill who might not be hip to the trip. 

So, who better to ask for a how-to primer than Kyle James of Kyle just went live with some Goodwill shopping secrets he was given on the Q-T by Goodwill employees, and ConsumerAffairs is sharing five of his seven favorites.

Tip #1: Ask about discounts

James says all you have to do is walk up to the checkout desk and ask what sort of discounts the local store offers. Usually, Goodwill offers discounts for students, military members, and seniors, but there may be some – like days of the week, or discounts to teachers, nurses, and first responders – that are worth asking about.

Tip #2: Negotiate on mismarked items

Goodwill stores have so much stuff coming in and it’s all not sorted by the same person, so it’s possible that one employee may mark something down in a way that another employee may not.

“If you spot a similar item with a lower price, politely ask an employee if they'll honor the lower price. They often will! Also, if a price tag is missing, find a comparable item with a lower price tag, and ask if they'll match it,” James says.

Tip #3: Hunt for coupons

Goodwill tends to rely on its local stores to do its marketing, and those local area stores will send out monthly coupons, so take advantage of that. 

“Word of caution: coupons typically can't be combined with other discounts, so use them strategically,” James warns.

Tip #4: Try and match locations with what you’re looking for

Equal distribution of items across geographic areas isn’t something that Goodwill does, which means that Goodwill stores in upscale neighborhoods or smaller towns may have better quality items, more expensive brands, and sometimes even lower prices. 

“When traveling, make it a point to pop into a Goodwill in a well-to-do area - you might be surprised by the treasures you find,” James suggests.

Tip #5: Use the return policy

Goodwill shopping is often impulsive. The oh-lookee-here deal of a lifetime, but James says that if you get home and you’re not convinced you made a good purchase (like clothes), you can often return it if the tag is still attached. 

Goodwill 'mystery boxes?'

It may come as a surprise, but some Goodwill locations offer different types of "mystery boxes," "mystery bags," etc.

Typically, the mystery bags will be filled with specific categories of items like DVDs of a particular genre, videogames, or clothing of a certain size. 

In addition to those mystery deals being available at local stores, there are two other options: 

  • Goodwill Blue Boxes: You can find mystery boxes on the Goodwill Blue Box website. These curated boxes contain items like jewelry, clothing, housewares, and collectibles.
  • Shop Goodwill Online Auction: The online auction platform ( sometimes lists mystery boxes or lots where you bid on the entire package.

But, all indications are that if you go this route, you should read the descriptions carefully because, as we said, some mystery boxes may have themes or general descriptions of their contents. And the offshoot of that is that there's no guarantee that everything in that box or bag will be something you truly love.​

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