Bid for a returned goods bargain! Rise of auction sites selling designer clothes, John Lewis furniture and top-of-the-range electrics at up to 90% off – often just because items have been UNWRAPPED
- Liquidation and returns auctions sell off items returned to big brand retailers for a fraction of the original price – or mint condition stock from closing retailers
- Trade-Secret.co.uk said people were becoming more canny about snapping up a bargain and that interest in the site had ‘gone through the roof’ during lockdown
- Range of goods are available – including everything from designer Hugo Boss watches to ‘bundles’ containing selection of products and flat-screen televisions
- John Lewis and Loaf sofas are often available with more than 50 per cent off
- But finance expert Jesse McClure warns not to get bid happy without doing your research first on the best buys
Savvy shoppers are picking up huge discounts on returned designer clothes, high-spec electrics and luxury furniture at auctions – often simply because they no longer look ‘box-fresh’.
Online auction houses buy up returned goods – or mint condition stock from stores forced to close – in bulk at a snip of the original retail price.
In 2020, auctioneering website John Pye says it sold 12 million items from around 100 retailers; and around 40 per cent of the items snapped up at online sales were returned goods – some with minor imperfections but many simply not in their original packaging.
Canny consumers can pick up garden furniture, a new sofa, must-have toys, a pair of designer jeans or iPad and phones, all at a fraction of the original cost. Among the retailers signed up with John Pye are John Lewis, Currys, PC World, DFS and Halfords.
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Time to make a bid? The returns auction market in the UK has boomed in recent years, with websites such as John Pye and Trade-secrets.co.uk offering up items that retailers can’t re-sell because they’ve been returned (re-sale items pictured at a John Pye warehouse)
This Loaf sofa retails at £3625 – but the same Dixie sofa in a different shade on Trade-secrets.co.uk was half the price
In a different shade, the Dixie chesterfield style corner couch from Loaf was on offer for £1813 – 50 per cent cheaper than the retail price
A pair of Levi ribcage straight ankle jeans sold at auction for just £9 and were still in the original packaging – but would cost £100 on the high street
On Trade-secret.co.uk, which buys cancelled or returned orders and stock over-runs, FEMAIL found a white corner Dixie sofa from trendy furniture brand Loaf on offer for £1,813. Exactly the same sofa – in a more popular colour – on the brand’s website currently retails at £3,625.
A quick glance at John Pye, which has auction houses across the country, takes a 22 per cent ‘buyer’s premium’ and asks consumers to arrange their own delivery or collection – sees a Hugo Boss ladies watch snapped up for £57 at auction; its RRP price is £295.
A pair of Levi ribcage straight ankle jeans RRP £100 goes for just £9 and comes in the original packaging.
And for those who miss out, there’s often at least ten more of the same item listed – all going for varying amounts depending on interest.
There’s also plenty of slightly damaged stock; if you’re prepared to do a minor fix, you could be on a one-way ticket to a major discount.
Author of Never Go Broke, Jesse McClure, explains that returns auctions have been fuelled by shoppers wanting greater flexibility on returns – which can leave stores out of pocket.
‘When you send something back to the shop, where do those returns go? You buy something you’re not happy with and you can easily return it and get your money back – it’s likely your item will then end up at one of these auctions.
Watchful eye and a quick hand: A Hugo Boss ladies watch was snapped up for £57 at a recent auction; its RRP price is £295 – offering a saving of around 80 per cent
‘They look like auctions, but they’re really what we call liquidation centers; these companies acquire items as low prices then auction them off or sell them at a massive discounts.’
While it all sounds straightforward, there are pitfalls for the uninitiated.
There’s a commission on every sale – usually around 20 per cent – and if you have to collect an item from 200 miles away because you didn’t notice the auction house postcode, then you might wish you’d just bought it in the ordinary way.
Here, McClure offers his essential guide to grabbing a returns auction bargain:
SEE PAST THE PACKAGING
‘Buying at a returns auction is all about perception. Probably 90 per cent of the time the items being sold are identical to those you’d buy brand new.
‘The psychology that sometimes puts people off is if you think “This is used goods, it’s been in someone else’s house.
‘Put simply, that’s what allows you an opportunity to get such a massive discount – so definitely ensure you’re willing to look beyond the perception of it being ‘used’ or what a product looks like.
‘If you can do that, you’re able to get some some really good deals.’
Often items – such as these phone cases – are packaged up and sold as a bundle, which can bring big rewards if you can sell them on via ebay or a car boot
LOOK TO ‘BUNDLES’ FOR THE BEST BARGAINS
‘Bundles, where lots of items are sold off together, sometimes on a pallet, can potentially be a gold mine but might not be the best choice if you’re just getting started with auctions.
‘If you’re in it for the re-sale game – to try and sell on ebay or at a car boot sale, for example, then it’s totally worth it.
‘If you don’t quite have the selling experience or you’re just looking for personal use items, it’s better to start with bidding on one or two items.’
BUY OUT OF SEASON
‘It’s the middle of summer right now, so garden furniture, which everybody wants, is going to go for a higher price. However, if you’re looking for a winter jacket, you’ll probably find a bargain.
‘If you follow the theory of buying Christmas decorations on Boxing Day, that’s the core concept for finding your best deals.’
How it should look: retailers sell off stock that they can’t re-sell in shops for a fraction of the price, says finance expert Jesse McClure. This Lego Ironman helmet would ordinarily retail at £54.99
At a recent returns auction, a Lego Ironman helmet sold for £25 – although the buyer’s premium of 22 per cent and delivery cost would push that up to between £35 and £40
GRAB A HOME AND GARDEN FURNITURE DEAL
‘Items that decrease in value because of wear and tear – eg home furnishings – are really good to buy at auction.
‘If you buy them at full price, they don’t hold on to their value – in the way that a collectible might – so if you can buy them at auction, you really will get great value.
‘Couches, garden furniture, barbecues – that’s exactly what you should be looking out for.’
The biggest value comes from items that deplete quickly in value due to wear and tear – you’re unlikely to lose much if you don’t pay much. This Mamas and Papas stroller (left) retails at £429…but sold for just £87 at auction in brand new condition
KNOW YOUR LIMITS ON MINOR DAMAGE
‘One of the main areas to be wary of when it comes to auction sites selling liquidation stock is items sold where you’re not entirely sure of the condition the product is in.
‘If you’re unsure, stick to the general rule that “if it has a screen, don’t buy it”.
‘While it may be easy to glue a broken leg on furniture, it’s difficult to replace an entire 50-inch screen TV if it’s been dropped in transit and has a hairline crack.
Flat-screen TVs might look great in the picture but they’re more likely to be damaged in transit than other items so make sure you accept that risk before buying
‘If you don’t have the capacity to fix something, then don’t buy it. If you can be sure it’s just a case of, for example, replacing a missing screw, then go for it – but anything that could potentially involve electrical engineering is worth staying away from!
‘Smaller items that are less likely to be damaged, such as children’s toys, so they might be a safer bet.’
BEWARE OF HIDDEN COSTS
Jesse McClure and Lee Boyce’s book Never Go Broke reveals how to make money from auction sites by re-selling cut-price products for a higher price
‘Take the same approach that you might if you were buying on eBay, you know that you’re likely to pay a percentage to eBay plus delivery costs – it works in exactly the same way.
‘In general, auctions have a buyer’s premium, which can range anywhere between eight and 25 per cent plus shipping or collection costs.
‘I once bought something that was an absolute bargain, but I failed to realize that it was collection-only on the Scottish Borders.
‘I was not going to drive seven hours’ north to pick up a £30 item that saved me £40 but cost me £100 in petrol to pick up.’
CHECK OUT THE AUCTION SITE’S REVIEWS
‘What you really have to establish before bidding is the reputation of the seller – particularly if you’re choosing a lesser known liquidation centre to buy from.
‘It’s worth going to Trustpilot and reading the reviews of some of these auction sites. If you’re finding reviews that tell you ‘the item arrived as expected and looks brand new’, then you know you’re safe to bid.
‘Due diligence doesn’t necessarily need to be investigating and inspecting every single item, but it’s always worth looking at terms and conditions when it comes to collection, delivery, sold as seen etc.’
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