Archive for Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Goodwill stores turn donated books into sales on

Damian Fluker, a processor II at the Lawrence Goodwill Thrift Store, scans books in the storeroom at the store Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012. The nonprofit company is benefiting from selling books online.

Damian Fluker, a processor II at the Lawrence Goodwill Thrift Store, scans books in the storeroom at the store Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012. The nonprofit company is benefiting from selling books online.

January 11, 2012


Those who donate books to Lawrence’s Goodwill thrift store might be surprised to know those books could end up in the hands of readers thousands of miles away.

For the past year and half, the local Goodwill has been shipping their most valuable books to the Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas’ main office, which then lists those books for sale on

The change has been successful, said Stuart Hoffman, vice president of marketing and development for the regional Goodwill organization.

“Books on Amazon bring in a higher value,” Hoffman said. “For us, the more money we can make on our books, the more money we can pour into our mission.”

For 2012, the regional Goodwill expects to bring in $1 million from its online books, which is about 2 percent of its business. Goodwill’s proceeds go toward providing services and programs for those who have barriers to employment, such as those with disabilities or economic disadvantages.

A Goodwill store in Oregon was the first to make the transition to online book sales several years ago. Others across the country have followed.

For the Kansas City region, the switch to online book selling was part of a larger e-commerce program. The program includes putting higher-value items online that would be hard to sell at local stores, such as fur coats, jewelry and coins.

“It’s not something that is popular in the stores, but it is online,” Hoffman said.

Not all donated books end up online. When someone drops off their books at Goodwill, the bar code is scanned into a software program, which calculates if the book has any market value on Amazon. Most of the time, Goodwill will price the book at Amazon’s suggested market price.

Those that do have an Amazon value are shipped to the regional facility in Kansas City and listed online. The rest are put on the shelves at the local stores.

Amazon won’t allow Goodwill to sell the books under their direct name, so the regional Goodwill uses the name Good Books Will Follow. The regional Goodwill has about 8,500 books online and sells about 225 books a day.

On Wednesday, the books varied from the best-seller “The Help” to the educational book “Introduction to the Croatian and Serbian Language.” In between there was a “101 Cool Magic Tricks” and “The Anarchist Handbook.”

Textbooks and cookbooks sell best, Hoffman said. The most the nonprofit ever received for a book was $650. The book was about hacking computers.

While sales remain steady, Hoffman said, there can be some unpredictable factors.

“Believe it or not, based on the sales over the weekend, I can tell what kind of weather there was,” he said. “If it was the dead of winter, when it is freezing across the country, people stayed in and bought books.”

Selling books online means those books aren’t available for customers to purchase at local stores, which has disappointed some shoppers. But Hoffman said those disappointed the most were the book buyers who are doing in the same thing Goodwill is: scanning bar codes to see which books Amazon will take.

“They were buying the books from us for 99 cents and $1.50 and then turning around and putting them up on Amazon,” Hoffman said. “I don’t begrudge them for having a business. But we are in business to make money. We need to be able to invest right back into our mission.”

Other local nonprofit thrift stores, such as The Salvation Army and the Social Service League, haven’t gone to online book selling.

At the Social Service League, there is an entire room of books priced between 25 to 50 cents, manager Jean Ann Pike said. She keeps the prices low to keep people reading. And she has considered selling some of them online, but as the store’s sole employee she doesn’t know where she would find the time.

“I’ve thought about it, and that is as far as it got,” Pike said.


Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 3 months ago

I had to look at my Ebay purchase history to find it, but I was sure I had bought a book from a Goodwill store in the past.

But, for our local Goodwill, it's probably easier to send it off to Amazon without the large quantity of books that Goodwill in San Fransisco obviously collects.

Here's a clip of the feedback that Goodwill left for my Ebay purchase:

Your generous support creates jobs and transforms lives, thank you! Goodwill SF Seller: Member id goodwill_industries_of_san_francisco ( Feedback Score Of 74444Purple shooting star icon for feedback score in between 50,000 to 99,999) Mar-16-10 17:44

Lawrence Morgan 6 years, 3 months ago

In my opinion, this is another great idea. This recycles books and gets them to people who have a real use for them.

And it helps to create local jobs in the process.

pace 6 years, 3 months ago

Good for the Good will. More organizations should look at their practices and adjust them to the current market opportunities. More businesses for that matter.

peartree 6 years, 3 months ago

So that is why they don't have any good books on the shelves anymore (I once found a $60 textbook there for one of my classes for a dollar). I'm a little bit torn about this. I am very happy Goodwill is making money and doing the very good things with it. Goodwill also has its own auction site, and many of their more valuable donated items end up being sold to the highest bidder. While I am of course happy about the work they do, it does in the end mean that people who actually shop there have a harder time finding nicer items. I'm not saying they shouldn't be maximizing their profits, just mentioning another perspective.

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