Exploring an overlooked Amazon inventory source: The weird underground world of overstock and liquidation stores.
Video: Overview of overstock and liquidation stores
What are overstock stores?
I love overstock stores. They’re chaotic. They’re weird. And they’re a total wildcard. I might get a pallet of books to resell, or I might hit 3 in a row that have nothing. But they’re always fun.
These go by lots of names: “overstock store,” “surplus store,” “liquidation store,” “closeout store,” and “discount store.” (And I definitely missed some.)
Overstock stores are the dumping ground for all the world’s rejected merchandise from both online and offline retailers, as well as wholesalers and various middlemen. Their inventory can include discontinued items, expired food, liquidated inventory from bankruptcies, and basically any new merchandise that couldn’t find a home elsewhere.
Think of overstock stores as the “end of the road” for everything that didn’t sell anywhere else. Imagine a trough that all the world’s unsold merchandise trickles into. Whether you’re selling books or just about anything else, you’ll probably find it at an overstock store.
If you aren’t familiar with these, its probably for one of two reasons:
- They can be hard to locate.
- They generally only exist in economically depressed areas.
(These can be hard to identify, since there’s no single word that can be used to describe them. More on this in a minute… For the purpose of this article, I’ll call them “overstock” stores.)
Do overstock stores sell books?
Very often. But definitely not always.
Historically these have been among my best sources of books to sell on Amazon, but they are also very inconsistent.
Some of the largest single purchases I’ve made have been at overstock stores, where I’m buying literal shopping carts with hundreds of books in one trip.
And then there are lots of trips to overstock stores where I find no books at all (or books that are too expensive to be sold profitably).
The good news for Amazon booksellers:
- When an overstock store carries books, they often have a lot of books.
- They often have multiple copies of the same title. Find one profitable book, there may be many more copies.
What is it like inside an overstock store?
Sourcing Amazon inventory at overstock stores can be a unique experience.
In my experience, the more rural the store, the more chaotic. Sometimes you’ll find something resembling a third world landfill. Occasionally you’ll find these with some semblance of order. Usually its something in between.
Best case scenario, they stores are organized by product category, and you can efficiently find your way around and find the inventory type you’re looking for.
Worst case, you’re rummaging through bins of complete chaos like some kind of post-apocalyptic scavenger.
No, these are not the same as Big Lots
Same idea, but not the same.
Big Lots would be the closest point of reference I would use to explain an overstock store to the uninitiated, but they’re not the same.
Big Lots is like an overstock store sanitized of anything interesting or fun. There is no chaos, no surprises, and the prices is all “mainstream.” Prices at Big Lots are usually much higher than the average overstock store.
Forget what you know about Big Lots. Overstock stores are in a totally different category.
Overstock stores aren’t second hand stores
To be clear, while many overstock stores have the feeling of a thrift store, that’s not what we’re talking about here. Overstock stores sell new merchandise. It just happens to be new merchandise that its original owners couldn’t find buyers for. So the merchandise can often look used, having endured a long journey through a twisted labyrinth of warehouses, trucks and who-knows-what-else.
Expect that much of the merchandise will be worn and tattered, but unopened. Same for books – technically “new” books that probably don’t look so new anymore.
How to find overstock stores
Like I said, there’s no easy formula for finding these locally. That’s one reason so many Amazon sellers miss them.
Here’s a list of keywords to search for:
I would recommend not relying on their websites or reviews to determine what they sell. These stores are generally pretty bad at marketing themselves (some of the websites I’ve seen are bad and/or ambiguous to the point of hilarity. Often they don’t have websites at all.)
Why overstock stores can be so overlooked by Amazon sellers
They go by many ambiguous names: See the list above. There’s no easy way to search spot these. Your best bets are to combine Google with a little “reading between the lines.”
They don’t consistently have books: If you’re primarily looking for books to resell, you aren’t guaranteed to find them 100% of the time like other Amazon inventory sources.
Their inventory is scattershot: You might find the inventory you’re looking for (like books) one time, then come back and find a totally different store. Overstock stores turnover their inventory fast, and can stock totally different products from one month to the next.
They’re hard to search for: See above. Even the list of keywords I gave you might not turn up everything.
They are rarely chains: Most of the time these are a “locals only” phenomenon. They are either one-off locations, or a small chain of 2 to 4 stores in a small area. A lot of sellers rely on whatever inventory sources a random YouTube personality tells them about. That won’t lead you to overstock stores.
Lots of the country doesn’t even have overstock stores: You are not likely to find stores of this kind in areas that are not economically depressed. And even beyond that, I’ve seen a huge discrepancy in my travels between parts of the country where overstock stores exist: economically depressed or not. For example, these are extremely common in the South, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in the Northwest (I’m sure they exist – but at the very least they are less common).
Bonus: Overstock stores are most open to cutting deals
In the category of “can’t hurt to ask,” overstock stores are more interested in turnover than just about anything else. That makes them especially agreeable to managers being approached for bulk discounts.
Seriously, try it.
Overstock stores are one of the most overlooked sources of books to sell on Amazon. Get on Google and see if you can find one near you….
PS: Have an experience with stores like this? Jump in the comments.
Jason Schwab says
“Sundry” is another search term, as is “banana box”. Often shelf pulls are thrown in banana boxes i guess because they are very sturdy. Circa 2012 I would seek out and frequent these places for discontinued HBA (health and beauty) as that stuff would often yield 500% ++ ROI. Any more I won’t even touch that topical stuff considering expiration date, liability, authenticity, and/or amazon suspension concerns. If it goes in you or on you I want no part of it. I do recall seeing a lot of books, but I whenever I looked at a sample of them it seemed like all zero profit romance books. I probably overlooked millions of profit dollars right under my nose.
Jason Schwab says
the dingier the store the better. if at least 1/2 the lights don’t work and a dozen or so pails to catch leaky roof rain water are a sign you may be on to something. grotesquely obese sales clerks are generally a telltale indicator you’re in a gold mine. you can really tell you’re about to hit pay dirt if there are dusty disheveled pallets that you have to squeeze by, or better yet crawl over, to get down the aisles. Merely uttering the phase “take all” may lead to the deal of a lifetime.
Peter Valley says
This x10000. When I encounter a new one, I make a bet with myself that I can tell by the parking lot alone if its going to be a goldmine. If the parking lot looks like it hasn’t been paved in 100 years and you can’t tell if the store is even open – that means gold.
Yes sir. We do have overstock stores here in the northwest. Many of them carry books, but are over priced.
Peter Valley says
Good to know. Always suspected I was missing something out there. Spent a lot of time sourcing in Washington state and never encountered them.