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Ask Matt ... about open-box returns

Blue Ridge Bargains sells “open box returns” it gets by the truckload from Amazon. Blue Ridge Bargains sells “open box returns” it gets by the truckload from Amazon.

Q. Blue Ridge Bargains gets items from Amazon for resale. How does all that work?

Need a brand new crock pot, shop vac or cooler? Check out these items and more at Blue Ridge Bargains located on the corner of Jackson Loop Road and Upward Road a mile north of I-26. Owner David Portugal took me through the warehouse surrounded by apple orchards. Most of the items on the shelves were still in their distinctive Amazon shipping boxes. Portugal said the business is "open box return" where he receives tractor trailer loads of items returned to Amazon. His team opens, inspects, photographs, prices and finally routes each box either to the retail shelf or to a holding area for online sales. A quality control system ensures that all parts are included with the product and if it's an electronic item – that it works. I watched a technician test a returned microwave. If the unit was dented in shipping a radiation leak detector would have been used. Portugal said that he seldom gets TVs because they are hard to fix. He said he sells no damaged goods and offers a return policy.

The items in Blue Ridge Bargains inventory were first returned to Amazon for any number of reasons such as the purchaser got another toaster as a gift, or the deep fryer didn't work when they plugged it in or the bike rack they ordered didn't fit. "About 5 percent of Amazon's shipments get sent back and they don't have the manpower nor the time to handle returns," said Portugal. That's where Blue Ridge Bargains fits in. They purchase items by the truckload without even knowing item for item what's in them. Everything is mixed together although Portugal admitted he has a better idea of what he's buying than a speculator who bids on abandoned storage lockers. Portugal's business in unique and his closest competitor is 300 miles away in Nashville, Tennessee.

Blue Ridge Bargains does a lot of business online (blueridgebargains.com) and ships right from the warehouse. Kristen Jones heads up a team of customer service agents, part of the 16 company employees. The online inventory includes mostly small or specialty items. Heavy items such as car seats or rubber yoga mats typically don't get shipped long distances and are put on the shelves for local resale. Those items are discounted 25%, 50%, and 75% from list price and each week the discounts are rotated. This adds interest to the savvy customer who could get that weed trimmer today for 25% off list price but two weeks later the price might be cut in half – if, of course, the trimmer is still there. The hottest selling items at Blue Ridge Bargains are car seats, cookware and baby items. I saw a hoverboard listed for $150 but I'm not betting it's a hot seller.

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