Goodwill is blowing it (2 of 2)

Note: Here’s the conclusion to this two-part blog post.  The first installment covered “Visibility and ease of access” and “Design” as reasons why Goodwill has failed to gain traction in a field of eBay competitors; you can view it here. —Scott

3)  Pesky shipping costs

One of the most annoying things about eBay (ridiculous rewards policy aside) is the risk of buying from someone who tries to game the system with outrageous shipping costs.  Instead of charging a reasonable cost to ship the item, these sellers quote a ridiculous shipping price.  If you fail to notice and bid anyway, you’re stuck with the bill.  If you stay away from the auction, the bid price stays low and continues to lure in other potential bidders.  These shady peddlers know that postage charges are exempt from eBay seller fees, leaving them with a bigger slice of the pie.

You’d think that Goodwill and other eBay competitors would take advantage of this weakness. wouldn’t charge ridiculous shipping charges, right, since individual Goodwill stores are responsible for packaging and shipping their auction items?  Wrong.

Let’s imagine that I wake up one day and decide that Vibram FiveFingers shoes are the only footwear for me.  I surf over to and find this delightful pair for sale…and the auction price is currently only $9.

eBay competitor

A auction item. Seems inexpensive to ship, right?

Before placing a bid on the item, I do my due diligence to verify the cost to ship these shoes to my home in Spring Hill, TN.  To my horror, I find that it will cost nearly $18 to get these strange kicks to my door (and that’s in addition to the auction price, of course).

eBay competitor

How does it cost nearly $18 to ship a pair of lightweight Vibram shoes across the country?

Granted…they are being shipped via UPS.  But why can’t Goodwill provide a less expensive option?  Is there any other successful online retailer right now that would charge $17.74 to ship a pair of minimalist shoes?  And what’s with the $2 handling fee?  Believe it or not, every item I’ve considered buying on has been torpedoed by crazy shipping costs.

My hunch is that things are complicated by the fact that each Goodwill store is setting its own shipping policy.  But the end result is that Goodwill as an organization appears to be gouging potential shoppers with inflated shipping costs.  Goodwill, if you’re listening, come up with a one-size-fits-most nationwide shipping policy, and apply it across all of your auctions (with exceptions for exceptionally heavy, fragile, or cumbersome items).  You’ll probably lose a few bucks here and there on actual vs. collected shipping costs, but you’ll more than make up for that with increased bid volume (i.e.—higher sales prices).

4)  Creating a risk-free shopping experience.

I’ve only had to ask eBay to intervene once after a bad transaction.  And they totally took care of the problem, refunding my purchase price, the original shipping cost, and the fee to ship the item back to the naughty seller.  They’ve made it safe for me to shop confidently.  Here’s their policy:

“If the item isn’t exactly what you ordered, eBay will make it right by covering your purchase price plus original shipping on virtually all items. Learn more about how eBay is here for you.”eBay’s money back guarantee

By contrast, here’s a typical return policy on

“Merchandise is sold As Is. Returns will only be accepted with prior authorization and under the terms stated in this Return Policy. If you have questions regarding the quality or authenticity of this item please contact [the individual Goodwill store location] prior to placing your bid. Items may be returned within seven (7) days of receipt if the merchandise was damaged during shipping or if there was a major distortion in the description. Returns will not be accepted without prior authorization. PLEASE NOTE THAT WE DO NOT REFUND SHIPPING AND HANDLING CHARGES. Items selected for pick up from the seller, must be picked up within thirty (30) days from close of auction. Items not picked up from seller within thirty (30) days from close of auction will be resold with no further notice.” return policy

The translation:  “You can return it. But only within a small window of time, and on our terms, and don’t EVEN expect us to refund your shipping costs.  No…it’s not worth your hassle.”


So there you have it…four reasons why Goodwill never shows up in analysts’ lists of eBay competitors, despite having the resources, the products, and the brand recognition to make a strong run at the market leader.  Regardless, it’s worth noting that Goodwill’s online auction sales in 2013 totaled nearly $47 million.  That’s a pretty impressive number…until you consider that eBay’s revenue that same year was a bit over $16 billion (subtracting PayPal-related revenue brings this number down to a still-incredible $9.4 billion).

Goodwill, I love you.  But I think you can do better.

Goodwill is blowing it (1 of 2)

I’ve been shopping at Goodwill for the better part of two decades.  And I’ve been buying and selling on eBay for 14 years (despite the fact that they now have what is perhaps the worst customer rewards program on Earth).  Both retailers have a bizarre product inventory and a treasure-hunt feel that appeals to some and repels others; I just happen to fall into the category of folks who could easily, EASILY blow an hour on eBay or in a Goodwill store.  So how has Goodwill—a company whose history of selling donated merchandise dates back to the early 1900s—never managed to position (its online auction site) as a legitimate eBay competitor?

Think about this: Goodwill has just about everything it needs to mount a serious online auction offensive against eBay.  They have national brand recognition.  Pretty much everyone supports their cause.  They have a limitless supply of products.  And all of the merchandise they sell was originally donated.  Despite those strengths, however, they’re a weak eBay competitor (if they can even be considered a competitor).

At this point, you might be tempted to cut Goodwill some slack.  After all…Goodwill stores “meet the needs of all job seekers, including programs for youth, seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities, criminal backgrounds and other specialized needs;” this isn’t a Silicon Valley workforce, nor is it intended to be.  And it’s not like venture capitalists are throwing money at Goodwill, so how could it fund a better-than-eBay website through sales of donated furniture, lamps, and pre-loved tennis shoes?  One might consider giving the organization a pass and accepting that they’re doing the best they can do with their human and capital resources.

I tend to think otherwise.  Goodwill organizations generated $5.17 BILLION in revenue in 2013.  They boast over 87 million donors.  Nearly 3,000 Goodwill stores are in operation around the country.  And Goodwill’s nine top executives earned total combined compensation of nearly $2.5 million in 2013.  So…in my opinion, Goodwill is big, talented, and wealthy enough to deliver an online auction experience that should make it an eBay competitor.

So why isn’t that happening?  Through this post and a follow-up post next week, I’ll list four ways that Goodwill is blowing it with

1) Visibility and ease of access

Pull up and you’re immediately browsing their marketplace of fixed-price and auction items.  Visit, on the other hand, and you won’t find any mention of an e-commerce site.  To find from Goodwill’s homepage, mouse over “Donate and Shop” in the main menu and click “Shop at Goodwill.”  Once that page loads, scroll 3/4 of the way down the page to find the link to  Click the link and reward yourself for finding the cheese at the end of the maze. On a side note…once you finally get to, you’ll see a homepage banner ad advising you to check out, a separate fixed-price Goodwill e-commerce site.

Goodwill eBay competitor

Just a mouse-over, a click, a long scroll, and another click away!

Goodwill, if you’re listening, merge the auction-style and the fixed-price  Then bring this combined online megastore to your main URL.  And for the LOVE, be PROUD of it!  Make it visible and prominent on your homepage.  I know that was launched independently by Goodwill Industries of Orange County, CA, and I’m sure there was a reason for launching  But having three websites makes no sense to your customers.

2)  Design was launched in 1999.  And it still looks much like an e-commerce store from the late 1990’s:

eBay competitor

Looking for a search bar? Rookie. Click the search icon at the top of the page.

eBay, on the other hand, has traded its old zany online flea market look for a sleek, clean, modern style:

eBay competitor

eBay…you’re actually kindof sexy now.

What are your thoughts on these first two ways Goodwill is blowing its potential to become an eBay competitor?  I’ll post the second half of this blog next week…stay tuned!

Update: click here to access the second half of this two-part blog post.  —-Scott