Goodwill Industries, the international chain of well-known thrift stores, plans to join the world of e-commerce next week by launching an online auction site where it will offer some of its most valuable donated goods.
Shopgoodwill.com, scheduled to debut Tuesday, is the brainchild of staffers at Goodwill of Orange County (Calif.), who decided to create the site about six months ago after several successful sales of their thrift shop items on online auction sites such as eBay.
Goodwill stores in the Pittsburgh area, for example, began selling donated items through eBay in March and were astounded by the response, said spokeswoman Sheila Holt. A book about drawing horses, which would have sold for about $10 at a Goodwill book sale sold on eBay for $330. A Dr. Seuss book that would have sold for about $2 at a book sale recently sold for $26 online.
In the Washington area, Davis Memorial Goodwill Industries plans to use the new auction site, said spokeswoman Ginger Collins. A book about the Bolshevik Revolution that sat unsold in their fall book sale was purchased on eBay for $200.
Goodwill officials expect the new auction site to benefit both sellers and buyers, said Joan Dornbach, spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries of Orange County. The thrift shops expect to earn more money to spend on Goodwill's charity operations, which provide job training programs and services for the disabled. Meanwhile, shoppers can skip endless treks to stores and instead hunt for treasures from home computers.
"This is an idea whose time was coming," said Fred Grandy, president of Bethesda-based Goodwill Industries International. "We have an enormous amount of stuff that comes through our stores and a large enough audience that loves to prowl through them. I predict this to be a burgeoning business for us."
Goodwill's new venture comes as online shopping is gaining popularity among other thrift, resale and consignment store owners around the country, said Adele Meyer, association manager for the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops.
A handful of independent stores have created their own Web sites to sell goods, and others have ventured onto eBay, but nobody else is aggregating products from a network of resale shops as vast as Goodwill's.
And while other charity groups have raised money through Internet sales and fund-raisers for years, shopgoodwill.com represents the first time a charity has created its own auction site, instead of relying on an outside company, said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a national charity watchdog organization based in Bethesda.
Goodwill's site "is something new," he said. "This could be a great way for them to get more money for their donated goods. And it's great that they're doing it themselves, and it's not some middle guy collecting a fee."
The century-old nonprofit organization operates more than 1,700 thrift shops around the world, bringing in nearly $800 million a year through the sale of donated goods. That accounts for about half of Goodwill's total annual revenue of $1.5 billion. The rest comes from government grants, monetary contributions, fund-raising campaigns and fees from service contract work.
For the first two months, the auction site will sell merchandise only from Goodwill's 12 Orange County thrift shops. They initially plan to offer about 1,000 items, including antiques, jewelry, first-edition books and vintage clothing. Then, the site will be available to any Goodwill affiliate worldwide that wants to participate.
Other Goodwill thrift shops that want to offer items on the site will pay a nominal membership service fee and give an undetermined percentage of each sale to the Orange County Goodwill.
Goodwill officials have no estimates of how much money they will raise through the site. But they say they expect to attract shoppers who trust the Goodwill name and like knowing much of the money spent is going to charity.
Goodwill's site also is expected to add to the pressure on consignment and other resale stores to go online.
"Long term, the nature of the industry is such that you will have to participate over the Web or customers will migrate to stores that have Web access," said Eric Beringause, who plans to launch resaleworld.com, a Web site for consignment stores. The site is scheduled to start operating in January, but already nearly 1,000 stores have expressed interest, he said.
Some shopping aficionados, however, don't envision Web sites ever replacing the individual store, where many people visit for the eclectic atmosphere.
"Some people don't go in for the merchandise," said Meyer, of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops "They go just to talk or to have someone help them choose clothes."