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Retail Rebel

With the shift to online shopping and the pervasiveness of the behemoth that is Amazon several secondary markets have sprung up. Among them is the concept of a store front with a declining price model where online returns are made available at an introductory price and over time get progressively cheaper.

Amazon does not release numbers on the amount of returns they accept (that I could find at 11 PM on a Tuesday evening) but estimates are as high as 30% of all sales with this being higher for clothing. All those returns need to go somewhere and million-dollar industries exist to resell or dispose of the mountain of items. My intent is not to go into the ethics or commerce behind all of this rather to spotlight a small end user subset.

Kansas City has several iterations of the resell shop some focusing on auctions, warehouse pricing or bin pricing. Retail Rebel utilizes all 3 of these to milks every dollar they can out of the waste shed by the largest online retailer in the world. They accept truckloads of Amazon returns (and some overstock) on a weekly basis distributing them to their (currently) 7 locations in the Kansas City area and Iowa.

Today I visited the Kansas City, KS store and discovered a large room lined with rows of bins each roughly 5’ cubed and overflowing with a random assortment of items. They claim to not skim the bins but I find it hard to believe they are completely untouched between the truck and the public. That said beginning on Saturday they open their doors with “fresh” material and the public is allowed to sift through them.

On a Saturday, the first day, each item is sold at the high of $10. I have picked up $60 board games, a nice battery pack, a high-end volleyball, dish sets, etc. at this introductory price. Bins are wheeled out at open and again at noon, there is a certain amount of excitement digging through looking for deals. Part of me realizes that it’s a fool errand and even when I find quality and heavily discounted items it’s rarely ever something I legitimately need. In reality abstaining or purchasing the one or two items I justifiably need would be more cost effective but I still enjoy “the hunt”.

Each day following the first the prices gradually drop so if you visit on say a Tuesday (like today) you are paying $3 per item. Waiting till Friday may yield the best prices at 95% off but it is so heavily picked over there are very few things worth $0.50. According to the security guard I spoke to today the remaining items are donated but frankly I cannot see what group would be interested in broken light sconces, detached remotes or graduation signs for 2019. It seems much more likely these are trashed after their failed attempt to avoid the landfill.

I had some time to kill today and usually tell myself I am visiting to look for items to use in geocaches. While this has happened from time to time I usually end up with one or two household gadgets. As 98% of the items originate with Amazon using the scan function on the Amazon app makes it easy to identify any item and see what the full price cost was. Occasionally a quick scan of these reviews will give insight into why it was likely returned (and serve as a cautionary tale against repeating the sin). With enough patience however you can usually uncover a handful of items that intersect at being both worthwhile and cost justified.

The bins are elevated off the ground but you need to dig through a few feet of items to see what has been cycled to the bottom. Small (sometimes expensive items) easily fall below the bulky items and some visitors will purposely bury things in the hopes of returning another day and getting it cheaper. It is however important to be careful as many treasure hunters are rough and glass items often break. When this happens unless an employee is diligent dangerous shrapnel can lay in wait under that copy of Fast and Furious with Spanish dubbing you were considering.

Along the back wall is a row of outlets to test any electrical items (as best you can) and trash cans are scattered around to allow customers to aid in the removal of broken junk. Today I took this opportunity to unburden them from a torn Trump 2020 sign. It was a shame to see it go but somehow, I think they will recover.

Instead of grabbing a cart (this encourages buying more items) I moved my stack with me perching the items on the intersection of where two bins meet. I found 4 items worth my time today including a digital antenna (ours has been on the fritz), a BBQ mat for grilling, a knock off swiss army knife with loads of little gadgets and a bag of quality cloth masks. At some point along the way someone else decided they wanted the knife and when I wasn’t looking plucked it from my stack. Once I caught wind of this I glanced around briefly and then decided it was time I made my departure. My investment of 30 minutes and $9 gave me my retail fix for the day.


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