Those socks you returned after the holidays could be auctioned off at a warehouse in Pennsylvania

By Brian Cheung

Rather than get put back on shelves, many returned goods enter the booming “reverse supply chain” industry, in which liquidators sell off unwanted items by the pallet.

Retailers are now in the throes of processing billions of dollars in returned holiday gifts, but many of those items aren’t going back on shelves. Instead, they’ll be bundled off to warehouses and sold in auctions for a fraction of their sticker prices.

More than 15% of the $966 billion in purchases nationwide this past holiday season will be returned, the National Retail Federation estimates. Many of those goods will be scooped up by liquidators in the “reverse supply chain” business, an industry that has been growing thanks to the e-commerce era’s generous return policies.

The reverse logistics market, which includes all players involved in processing in-store or online returns, was valued at $939 billion in 2022 and projected to grow at a 12% compounded annual rate through 2032, according to a Polaris Market Research estimate in August.

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