Skip to main content

How to Succeed at Live Goodwill Auctions

  • Author:
  • Updated date:
Goodwill auctions

Goodwill auctions

What Are Goodwill Live Auctions?

Goodwill live auctions are unique. The employees who sort through donations in the back of the store pick out the good items they think are worth more money and can auction off. In the days leading up to the weekly auction, they put those items in the front of the store in glass display cases.

Goodwill auctions typically bring a small crowd of about 20 people, depending on where the Goodwill store is located. Often, there is a crowd in the hour or so leading up to the auction in which potential bidders are permitted to inspect the items that the Goodwill employees will be auctioning off.

These auctions can be an excellent chance at a great bargain if you know what to do. Do your research and keep your head in the game, and you will be successful.

The Preview Period

The great thing about Goodwill auctions is that you can preview the auction items in the cases during the week before the actual auction. If you see an item in the case that piques your interest, take note of it so that you can do further research on it at home or on your smartphone.

What you do not want to do is show up on auction day and just start bidding on the auction items. This will get you in trouble. To get a good deal at a Goodwill auction, you need to know exactly what you are bidding on! Do your research. If you are unsure about an item, look it up on the internet.

Personal Use

If the auction item is for your own personal use, make sure it is exactly what you need or want. Only you know what kind of compromises in quality and price you are willing to accept. Don't compromise if you aren't sure; there will always be another chance for you to find your item somewhere else or at another auction.


If you are bidding on an auction item to resell, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, look at the condition of the item. Most items, especially collectibles, sell far better and for more money if they are in pristine condition and even better if they are in their original packaging.

If an auction item is not in good shape, don't bother doing anything other than looking up the value it has in its current condition. There may be some cases where an item that is up for auction is so valuable that even in bad shape, it would sell for a lot of money, but these cases are rare.

The next thing to consider when you are looking for auction items to resell from Goodwill auctions is price. You may be tempted to go after something because it has a low starting price.

This in itself is not bad. However, competition from other bidders tends to drive the price up to the point that it gets close to or exceeds what you should pay for the item.

When you consider price, look at how much profit you can make on the auction item. If you can buy something for $30 and still be able to sell it for $60 on eBay, then your profit is around $30, minus selling fees. A 100% profit margin like this would be very good.

Paying anything more than half of the price you can resell the auction item for starts to get risky. Especially when you consider online selling fees or the demand, or lack thereof, for your item, paying anything more than this becomes less and less appealing.

Look for auction items that are sold in lots. When items are sold in lots, the individual values of each item are not considered, and the lot is sold at a bulk price. If you have the time, go for collectible auction items that are sold in lots, including sports or trading cards, Coca-Cola products, and others that are not easily sold individually.

You can build inventory for your online store by buying lots, as long as you know how much you can pay for the lot and still make a good profit.

Setting a Maximum Bid

Set in your head a maximum bid. This bid will be the absolute most that you would pay for the item considering what kind of savings or profit you would be getting if you were to win it.

Goodwill auctions might not be this fancy, but you can still find great items at them!

Goodwill auctions might not be this fancy, but you can still find great items at them!

The Auction

Now you know exactly what you want to bid on, and you have set a maximum bid for yourself. This is the part where it is easy to get carried away, and you will regret your spur-of-the-moment decisions later.

Only bid on items that you planned on biding on in the auction. Otherwise, you may end up paying too much for an item that you did not really want.

Auction Success

Success does not always mean going to the auction and bidding and winning the item you wanted. Success, in this case, is getting a good deal and not losing money. If you overspend at a Goodwill auction, you will not be getting a good deal, and you will most likely lose money.

Never go over your maximum bid. Period. Just don't do it. It will start a bad habit that you do not want to have. No matter what the auctioneer says about the auction item, and how good of a deal they say it is, don't give in. It's just a selling strategy to get you to spend more money than you intended.

If someone else gets your auction item, you did not lose. You set a limit for yourself based on what you know the value of the item to be, and you did not overspend. Buying nothing at any auction is a better deal than overspending and winning the item. There will always be more items to bid on at later auctions.

The good deals that you do get at Goodwill auctions will be those auction items that you paid less than your maximum bid for. And that is what matters, not who wins the item.

After the Auction

Once you have gotten a good deal on a Goodwill auction item, pay for it and take it home!

If you did not overpay your auction item, you will be much happier about your purchase than if you had won your item by overpaying. Taking it home with you will bring you a great feeling of success and excitement.

If you bought the auction item for yourself and you don't intend on reselling it, you can do as you please. But if you do plan to resell your item, there are a few things you need to do to ensure success.

Reselling Your Item

Sell your auction item on eBay or Craigslist, or offer friends an opportunity to buy it. When you are reselling your item, make certain that you store it in a safe place so that it will stay in the same condition that you received it in when your buyer receives it.

Set the price for your item. On eBay, auctions tend to attract more bidders, so your item will get more exposure. As a note for selling on eBay, buyers tend to choose sellers who have good feedback.

What you can do to get over this hump when you start out selling on eBay is to buy a few small items and pay instantly with PayPal. The seller should give you positive feedback for your speedy transaction, giving buyers more confidence in you as an eBay seller.

Putting your item in an online auction is riskier than selling it at a fixed price, for the same reason you were able to get a good deal at the Goodwill live auction. Be aware of this when you decide how to sell your item.

If you are worried about losing money on your item in an online auction, set a reserve price for the lowest price that you would be willing to accept, and start the bidding at 99 cents.

Do a search on eBay for your item, showing completed listings. This will give you a good idea of how easy your item will sell: the more sold listings, the more people who are willing to buy that particular item on eBay.

Always be a good seller. Have good communication with buyers, stay true to your word, and ship your items to your buyers quickly. This will ensure success when you sell your items online.

Advantages of Goodwill

Advantages of Goodwill

Advantages of Live Goodwill Auctions

As I said at the beginning of this article, Goodwill live auctions are unique. They offer a totally different opportunity than auctions held at an auction house.

The Crowd

The main quality that distinguishes Goodwill auctions from auction houses is the crowd. Crowds of around 20 people, depending on the Goodwill store location, are typical on auction day. This gives you a competitive edge at auction that you can't find almost anywhere else.

I won my first Goodwill auction item directly because of the size of the crowd on the day of the auction. No one else bid on the item except those who had offered a written bid before the start of the auction. I was shocked to see no one else interested, and I won the item for a dollar more than the written starting bid!

My experience was partially luck because in the auction before that, I was run up by another bidder. But I did not go over my maximum bid in that case, even though the auctioneer was enticing me to go higher.

The Setting

With the setting of the auction being a Goodwill store, the feel is different. You are in a thrift store, an environment where you are expecting low prices.

You can get good deals simply because Goodwill, as a thrift store, receives a vast selection of items that most auctions would not typically have and that not many people will specifically want to bid on.

Many of the bidders at these auctions are looking to get quality used goods for a fairly low price. If this is the case, then you will most likely not see as many collectors looking to score. Although collectors seem to have picked up on Goodwill auctions, you may be lucky enough to be the only collector or reseller there who is interested in your item.

Get Out There and Bid!

Now that you have a better idea of how to go about bidding on items in a Goodwill live auction, go try it! You may even consider just going to watch the auction the first time you go so that you can get a feel for it. Just try to have fun, and be smart about your bidding.


  • Don't get discouraged—you will not be the winning bidder every time.
  • Don't go over your maximum bid.
  • plan ahead with good research and make informed bids.
  • Keep your head in the game, and don't let emotions influence your bidding
  • Have fun!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Ryan Askew


Dr Penny Pincher from Iowa, USA on January 28, 2015:

Goodwill auctions sound really interesting- I will check to see if my local Goodwill store does this.

Eric Calderwood from USA on December 21, 2013:

This is good advice for any auction. I always enjoy shopping at thrift stores. I haven't tried shopping at one of their auctions yet, but it sounds like a good idea. Thank you.