The Champagne Life on a DIY Budget Since 2007

TGWIF: How to Shop Goodwill Online Auctions Like a Pro

vintage boy scout gear goodwill auctions

Thank Goodwill It’s Friday! It is hot, hot, HOT in Austin right now, and I’m thankful this TGWIF for fully functional air conditioning and the means by which to keep it fully cranked. Or, as my great aunt used to say: keeping us in “bought air.” The first summer we spent in Austin back in 2013, we lived in a rental duplex with ancient air conditioning that couldn’t keep the house any cooler than 20 degrees lower than outside, so on 104-degree days like today, inside would be…84. Ginger and I enacted what we called “Milkshakes for Marriage,” and began going to Amy’s Ice Cream or Lick every night to cool off, literally and figuratively. I’m not my favorite person when I’m too hot, and I’m woman enough to admit it.

Ever since it finally hit 100+ degrees every day, I’ve been limiting the majority of my thrifting to online shopping, and realized it was high time that I share one of my top-secret weapons:

For more than a decade, I’ve been finding some of my best thrift scores on this central site that aggregates online auctions from Goodwill stores all around the country, allowing them to maximize the fundraising dollars from unique, rare, and high-end donations. (Many also have eBay stores for the same reason, so if you’re already an avid eBay auction addict you may want to check them out there, too.) I recently remembered ShopGoodwill after a few years’ hiatus, and was thrilled to find that not only is it as good as I remember, it’s even more of a thriving treasure hunt than it was when I first created my account waaaay back in 2004.

degroot goodwill auction shoestringmag

Some of my favorite recent wins are featured here, but if you’re going to give it a try for the first time — or for the first time in a long time — here are 5 things you need to know to bid & buy on ShopGoodwill like a pro:

1. Start with the items that are Going, Going, Gone.
Collected under one easy search filter are all the auctions ending in mere minutes, found on the lefthand side of the homepage (“New Today, Ending Soon, Going Going Gone“), which is a great place to start for instant gratification as well as to test your bidding/shipping estimating prowess. Create an account and then place your bid for the maximum amount you feel comfortable with paying — if you’re the highest bidder, you’ll get the item at the price of the last bid closest to yours, and you’ll rarely hit your ceiling. Unless it’s a Hot 50 item, in which case, you’ll want to watch the bidding like a hawk if it’s something you just have to have.

2. Check shipping estimates before you bid.
More often than not on ShopGoodwill, you can end up paying three, four, even five times the amount you paid for an item in shipping and handling charges. Before you place your maximum bid amount, use the handy Shipping Calculator (found through the “Get Estimated Shipping & Handling” link in the Seller section of any item listing page) to factor in the price of getting the item on top of your ceiling for the auction price. For instance, I was recently very pleasantly surprised when I won an auction for a framed vintage needlepoint that I liked, because I set my maximum bid at only $6 after using the Shipping Calculator to find out that the shipping & handling charges would be $19! I decided that $25 was the most I would be willing to pay for it, subtracted the S&H, and got my maximum bid — a tactic learned the hard way after I had to cancel an order on a bid I had won when the S&H ended up being almost $100. I was lucky that the individual Goodwill store even agreed to let me retract my order, since ShopGoodwill has an honor system to prevent bid retractions.

shopgoodwill online auction navajo rug thrift score

3. Set up a Personal Shopper, but don’t rely on email alerts.
If you’re searching for specific things, you can set up a Personal Shopper under your account for up to 40 search terms and have them emailed to you on a frequency and for a length of time of your choosing: Never, Daily, or Every 3 Days; for either 30 Days or 60 Days at a time. If there’s something you’re really hunting for, though, don’t rely on those emails alone: test your search terms frequently to see if there’s anything new, at least twice a day during business hours when Goodwills will actively be listing new items, so you don’t miss out on miss something really good. Under your account, there’s a Personal Shopper tab that lists all your current search terms, and a link under Actions (on the right) for handing checking. Currently, I’m on the hunt for anything greyhound related for the raffle at our rescue’s upcoming gala fundraiser, so I’m checking those terms sometimes five times a day to get in my maximum bid before someone else does!

4. Pay attention to favorite Goodwill Seller ID’s.
Depending on your personal style or the category of items you’re hunting for, you will probably find that you’re bidding on items over and over again from the same regional Goodwills. Pay attention to which favorites, and then scroll to the end of any item listing page by that Goodwill and click on the “View Other Items For Sale By This Seller” link. Unfortunately, ShopGoodwill doesn’t have a feature to allow you to save favorite sellers under your account for easy reference, but you can bookmark their exact seller search results page, like this one for Goodwill of San Diego. Also, if you’re one of those die-hard eBay shoppers, scroll all the way to the bottom of any listing page from your regional Goodwill of choice to find the direct link to that Goodwill’s eBay store, like Goodwill of Tucson.

5. Check early, check often, and use the Watch List.
Like any good thrift shopping treasure hunt, it’s important to visit ShopGoodwill often to find the best stuff. I find that first thing in the morning and around 5-6pm are the best times to find the best scores — early bird listings and when the majority of auctions are ending. If there’s something you really want to keep track of, but aren’t yet ready to bid, add it to your Watch List using the link on the top-middle of any individual listing page. And keep that tab open until you get what you want!

Now that I’ve given away the secrets to my thrift-scoring kingdom: What tips do you have to add? Have you shopped the ShopGoodwill auctions before? I’d love to hear all about it!

Photos: Chelsea Laine Francis

  • Stephanie Miracle-Rosen

    So if I’m correct, you said I can put a max bid but it won’t show as my bid then if the actual bid at closing is lower then my max bid I will get the item for a dollar more then the lowest bid. I keep loosing my bids by a dollar and it has been very discuraging for me. All this time I have been upping by a dollar till it tells me i’m the highest then when the auction ends I lost the bid.

    • shoestringmag

      Hi Stephanie, sorry you’re having issues. The ShopGoodwill site was just redesigned and we’re not longer familiar with how it works – sadly, this review is from 2015. 🙁