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How to buy retail returns

Ben Smith
Ben Smith

We’ve probably all had a cheeky return of a gift we didn’t want. Auntie Nora very generously bought you a Nutribullet – but you’ve already got one languishing at the back of the kitchen cupboard, hiding behind the coffee bean grinder.

It’s a growing headache for retailers. Fashion brands felt it first, with “fast fashion” and the advent of social media leading to influencers buying clothing just for a photograph and then sending it back.

But the habit has bled through to other consumables including white goods and electricals and the whole process is estimated to cost the retail industry about £7 billion a year. Some of those products, unboxed or in mint condition, can head back out onto the shop floor, but for a huge number of items, it’s not feasible or cost effective for a retailer to ensure they are fit for resale.

In the past, these items would head for landfill or be burnt but thanks to a growing awareness around environmental issues, retailers are finding more sustainable solutions. And that’s good news for savvy shoppers.

Here are at William George, we run regular retail return auctions, many featuring big names including John Lewis, Homebase and JD Williams, so you can be sure to pick up some top-quality goods at knock down prices.

So, what are retail returns and how are they sold?

Good question, I’m glad you asked. You’ve probably gathered from the above, it’s the unwanted products that have been returned to where they were purchased and are sold in a variety of conditions.

Here at William George, we sell them as either raw returns – that means nobody has checked them to see what condition they are in – or graded stock. If it’s graded, the condition of an item will be clearly marked on the lot description. And it can be brand new, in need of repair, or everything in between.

Often it comes in a pallet rather than sold off as individual lot items - here you’ll find a selection of items under stock categories together. This is perfect for those who want to make a business out of selling on returns but also if you’re thinking of setting up home or perhaps chipping in with a family member.

Remember, there’s still value in damaged stock - you can get it fixed or break it up and sell the parts on for spares. If you get it repaired, the chances are you’re still on to a winner having paid a repair bill.

Buying raw returns presents an element of risk as you don’t know what condition goods are in until you open your delivery, but our buyers find this part of the thrill in buying this way!

What to buy?

If you’re planning on reselling, bidding for desirable brand names is always a good place to start, perhaps with electrical products and you’ll usually find plenty of choice of these.

Another tip is to buy out of season – if you can pick up Christmas decorations on Boxing Day you’re laughing. Likewise, outdoor gear in winter ready to flog in spring is ideal.

If you don’t know the condition, think about what you can do to spruce it up. Fixing a table leg is probably easier than repairing a flatscreen TV – if you’re buying returns to then sell on, paying for repairs is going to eat into your profits. But if you’re buying it for keeps, then you’re likely still going to get a bargain.

You’ve convinced me, how do I buy retail returns?

First off you need to find a reputable source – good news, you need look no further. We do lots of regular retail returns auctions at William George so you’ll find plenty to choose from.

Once you’ve found what you’re looking for, do a bit of research. Check out the RRP and compare second-hand prices to see how much they might fetch. That way you’ll know how much to bid. Don’t forget to include the Buyer’s Premium, VAT (if applicable) and delivery charges. These get added on to the hammer price so remember to include them in your budget.

Be realistic about prices – don’t get drawn into a bidding war and end up paying over the odds. If you’re doing this to make a profit, work out your bottom line and try not to go over it.

Have a look at our current live auctions and make sure you never miss out on an auction – sign up to our mailing list and be the first to know when something is going under the hammer.

Look out for our next blog on how to resell returns for profit later this week!