Goodwill Online Auctions: 6 Tips to Finding Great Deals

Shop thrift store deals without leaving your home

Woman in a coat standing on her tiptoes in a thrift store

Julien-Pier Belanger / Unsplash

Shopping at thrift stores can be exciting. It’s like a treasure hunt, looking for those hidden gems that others missed and snagging them at amazing prices. You can get a similar thrill buying items through online auctions: finding jewels, which other buyers didn’t catch and getting a significant bargain. 

How much more exciting, then, would it be to combine thrifting and bidding? Thrift store giant Goodwill has done just that!

What Are Goodwill Auctions?

Thrift store with racks of used clothing and hanging plants
Prudence Earl / Unsplash

Some Goodwill brick-and-mortar stores auction off high-end or rare items onsite. Typically, they will only have a handful of items available, which they received as local donations. They commonly use a silent auction approach, with a bid sheet where bids are recorded until a specified date.   

While you might get lucky and find something special at your local store, ShopGoodwill.com is like hitting the mother lode. The first online auction site operated by a nonprofit organization, the Goodwill auction site has countless treasures to discover and bid on. However, unearthing and winning them can be a challenge. Before you shop Goodwill online, learn the ins and outs of bidding, buying and bringing home the best bargains.

According to ShopGoodwill.com, the items up for bids on the site come from participating Goodwill locations across the country. Member organizations of Goodwill Industries International are the sole sellers on ShopGoodwill.com, so you don’t have to worry about fake listings or unscrupulous sellers. Money received from these auction items fund the organization’s training, education and job placement programs for people with disabilities or other obstacles.

Anyone can view the items available, but in order to bid on merchandise, you must first sign up for a free account. Once you have registered (and confirmed your account via email), you can begin some serious bargain hunting. 

Although payment types accepted can vary depending on the Goodwill store listing the item, ShopGoodwill.com accepts Visa, MasterCard and PayPal. 

Finding What You Want

Filter by Seller field on shopgoodwill.com web site

There are numerous ways to find auction items that pique your interest on the Goodwill auction site. You can log in and start browsing the diverse listings presented. You can browse by category, selecting the Categories menu from the main page and choosing an option. And of course, you can search for a specific item that you would like to buy. Using the advanced search and filtering features can help make sure you locate the best possible items.

To narrow your choices in a certain category, apply one or more filters. For example:

  • Filter by Search Terms allows you to search the current category by one or more keywords.
  • Choose a location in the Filter by Sellers box if you would like to find items sold by a specific Goodwill location.
  • Enter minimum and maximum prices in the Filter by Prices box to limit results to your budget.
Search by keyword field in advanced search options on shopgoodwill.com

If you prefer to use the search feature, you can click Advanced Search beneath the search box to zero in on the items you really want to check out. With the Advanced Search, you can perform the following functions and more.

  • Search within a category.
  • Search for items available from a specific seller location. 
  • Filter by price.
  • Filter by attribute (show buy it now items only, show pickup only items only, hide pickup only items or show 1¢ shipping items only).
  • Find auctions that will provide international shipping, either to Canada or outside the U.S. and Canada.

How Does Shipping Work?

Get Estimate button on Shipping calculator page for shopgoodwill.com

Speaking of shipping, it is imperative to check out shipping options on an item before placing a bid on it. Shipping prices vary greatly from one item to the next, based on several factors, including the size and weight of the package, the shipping method used and the type of packaging. Each listing has a shipping cost estimator that you can use to determine whether the item would be an affordable purchase for you overall. 

If you are purchasing multiple items from the same Goodwill seller within seven days, you can opt to have the items shipped together, which might reduce shipping costs. You do have to pay for the items at the same time and there is a 20-pound weight limit for combined orders. Some items, such as those that are especially fragile, might require individual shipping, so check before you bid.

Orders are shipped within five business days of payment.

In addition, most sellers allow items to be picked up from their location. If you live near a Goodwill auction site seller that has listings you love, be sure to contact them before you bid to see if this is an option. If so, you will be able to select “Pick Up Item” as the shipping option when you pay.

Get Them While They’re Hot

Woman sitting on a bed, facing away from the camera and and using her laptop
Dylan Gillis / Unsplash

You might notice on the main page of the Goodwill online auction website that there are several listing types you can view, such as Ending Today, Last Chance and Going, Going, Gone. Bidding on these quickly closing auctions can be an effective way to get used to the site and can also increase your chances of nabbing the items you want (as a new bidder, you can bid on up to 15 listings at one time). Learning the differences between the three is beneficial.

  • Ending Today listings are ending within 24 hours. 
  • Going, Going, Gone listings will end within five hours.
  • Last Chance listings will end within 30 minutes and currently have no more than one bid on them. 

If you really hate to wait, check out Buy It Now listings. When you click on a listing in this section, you will see that there is a Buy It Now button instead of or in addition to a box in which to enter your maximum bid.

My ShopGoodwill

Add to list button in My Personal Shopper on shopgoodwill.com

Even busy thrift shoppers can enjoy the online auction site, thanks to the Personal Shopper feature. To use this option, log in to ShopGoodwill.com. 

  1. Click My ShopGoodwill at the top of the page.
  2. Select Personal Shopper.
  3. Click the Add to List button.
  4. Enter keywords, choose a category and add minimum and maximum prices.
  5. Choose an email frequency as well as email duration and click Save.

Add as many items to your Personal Shopper list as you would like to create automatic searches. You will receive notification emails when items matching your search criteria are listed.

My ShopGoodwill also provides access to your open and shipped orders; auctions in progress and closed auctions you have bid on; saved searches; and your watch list, where you can check up on listings for which you selected the Watch This Item option.

Tips for Getting the Best Deal

There is no surefire way to win every auction, but you can increase your odds.

  1. Check out the one cent shipping listings. The items vary greatly in category and price, but they all have the same low shipping rate in common. 
  2. Look for the same or a similar item that has no bids.
  3. Browse often and at different times. You could snag a great item just before the bidding ends.
  4. Bid in dollars and cents. Most items on the Goodwill auction site end in .49 or .99. If your high bid is $17.03, you will win over someone who bids $16.99.
  5. Hang around near the end of the auction, if possible. Last minute bid increases can help you get what you want.
  6. Look for "Buy it Now" options and skip the bidding altogether.

Other Things to Consider

When browsing the Goodwill online auction, it is imperative to read the descriptions of listings before placing a bid. Although you can return an item within seven days if it does not match the description, you cannot get a refund on an item that shows wear, damage or is described as untested in the listing. 

Make sure you are happy with your bid amount by researching the item. Perform a search online for the item. See if you can find out how much similar items have sold for on eBay or on other sites. Read about an item to make sure it is valuable. Above all, only spend as much as you can comfortably afford.

While donations to Goodwill Industries International are tax deductible, purchases made through the Goodwill auction site (or Goodwill stores, for that matter) are not tax deductible.