(NEXSTAR) – Amazon makes it easy to return something you don’t want, so you probably don’t think about what happens to that box once it leaves your house. Turns out an ill-fitting dress or an unwanted frying pan — or whatever you decide not to keep — makes for a fascinating journey.
What happens to millions of Amazon returns? “Every item returned to Amazon is carefully inspected through a rigorous process by our trained associates,” a spokesperson told Nexstar via email. “If it meets our high standards to be resold as new, it is relisted.”
This is the first and most obvious answer: it is resold. It’s also the most annoying answer, as heaps of returned goods end up finding a second life in the clearance market, where they’re sold by the pallet at a steep discount.
Anyone willing to bid on a palette of mystery products may end up with a load of returned items shipped to their house. Whether or not there is anything valuable in this delivery may turn out to be a mixed bag. There is a whole subgenus of YouTube content dedicated to bidding thousands of dollars on a palette of Amazon returns, then unboxing them to determine if it was worth it, to see if the YouTuber’s gamble paid off.
Here’s how the whole process works. Sellers using Amazon’s platform can choose to have returned items sent back to them – so they can find out what to do with them – or they can choose to route their returns directly to clearance, according to Amazon.
Before sending returned items to a wholesale liquidator, Amazon says someone will inspect the products and classify them into one of four categories: “Used – Like New, Used – Very Good, Used – Good and Used – Acceptable”.
Sellers set the asking price for their used items, just as they do with new items, Amazon says.
From there, the items are repackaged in boxes – sometimes with similar things, sometimes with things that don’t look like them – and are on sale again. But this time they’re up for grabs in places like Liquidation.com or bstock.com.
A recent search of clearance sites found a palette of 432 “pharmacy” articles — such as a nasal spray and contact solution — for $776. (“A 88% savings!”, the site claims, based on an estimated retail value of $6,964 for shipping 391 pounds.)
Another palette of “health and beautythe items had an estimated retail value of $25,160. The highest bid when we checked was $2,601.
Each pallet comes with a manifest explaining the contents inside the shipment. But what it doesn’t tell you is the state each item is in.
A YouTuber, Safiya Nygaard, spent $500 (after shipping) on a palette of 50 various hygiene and beauty products. As she UNBOXED the shipment, she found some of the things were in good condition, such as unused soaps, makeup, and hair tools. But there was also a hairbrush (with hair in it) and the clean Waterpik teeth missing most of its key parts. Other items were just straight-up randomly, like a guitar case that was confusingly mixed up with the shipping.
Another YouTuber, who goes by the name HopeScope, Paid $1,032 for a shipment of clothing estimated to be worth over $9,000. She called it a “disaster” in her video, keeping only a small handful of stuff she bought and donating the rest.
Others have tried to ‘turn’ the pallets by reselling them for a profit. But as Nygaard points out in his video, most of the items have been used, which would make them hard to sell for their original retail value (at least in good conscience).
from Amazon announcement of the liquidation resale program from 2021 estimated that it would “bring more than 300 million products a second life each year”. It’s unclear what portion of Amazon’s returns end up in these clearance sales; the company declined to provide specific data on the number of returns it processes each year for “reasons of commercial sensitivity,” the spokesperson said.
Amazon also said it works with charities to donate “surplus product,” but didn’t say how many of its returns turn into donations.
“If there are no other options for reuse or recycling (for example, for legal or hygienic reasons, or because they are damaged), we send products for energy recovery – transforming waste that cannot be recycled into usable energy sources,” a spokesperson said.
What is energy recovery? This usually means they burn things, CNBC explains. Energy recovery consists of transforming non-recyclable materials into heat or fuel by means of “combustion, gasification, pyrolization, anaerobic digestion and landfill gas recovery”, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
An Amazon spokesperson called the option the company’s “last resort.”
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