Monday, December 8, 2008 - Why Not the Internet?

Goodwill is a great place to shop. It provides a market for reusable goods to be purchased thereby diverting tons of once-used items from ending up in landfills. It gives those with lower incomes an alternative to pricey malls. It provides the savvy shopper moments of triumph upon finding an overlooked bargain. For Goodwill Industries, it gives them a chance to accomplish their mission of providing job services for those with barriers to employment. For these reasons, a large number of people do shop at Goodwill retail stores. Still, a large amount of people for a number of other reasons, do not. We believe that creating an online interface where shoppers can engage with Goodwill outside of their physical locations has a great potential of bringing more of these people into the Goodwill process. Our proposal is to create a website called, provide the logistics of its operations, and provide a budget-conscious advertising and marketing strategy that Goodwill could easily incorporate into its existing infrastructure.

In our interviews, we found that the majority of people engage with the Goodwill process in some way, even if it is just to donate items at drop off points. What we wanted to find out were the reasons why people didn’t want to visit and purchase items from the retail stores. One of the interviewees described a feeling of uncleanliness and claustrophobia. Others talked about their lack of patience and time, with one interviewee responding, “I generally don’t have time to go through all the crap.” With the exception of a small minority who absolutely refused to buy pre-owned goods, most people were not averse to buying used items.

Our proposal targets this problem by aiming to attract more customers through a user-friendly online interface that is simple, convenient, and that would also act as an alternative to physical Goodwill stores in their current manifestations. This website also address two other problems Goodwill has – the first one being a general ignorance about the programs Goodwill fosters and the second problem being a limited online presence which fails to capitalize on the benefits and potential of internet commerce that Goodwill is aware of. Currently, Goodwill recognizes that books they sell online retrieve four times the revenue as books they sell in stores, yet little else is offered online. This website would provide another opportunity to educate people who normally don’t come into contact with actual Goodwill locations about their programs, and it will also help to organize Goodwill’s largely incidental online commercial presence.

The website is more similar to Craigslist than ebay, where the buyer can browse through items online then pick up the item, thereby keeping the process within the community. Unlike Craigslist however, where people can be unreliable, meeting places and schedules have to coordinated, and messages are sometimes left unreplied, after the purchase of an item online, one can go straight to the store that the item is located at and pick it up the same day. By having people come to actual stores to pick up their purchase, online shoppers are exposed to physical stores and those with negative attitudes towards these stores can be assimilated into the process. Also, the potential for higher revenue through further shopping at the stores is increased.

Items that appear on follow a similar trajectory to items in the physical store. When goods are donated, a sorter at the store decides whether the donation goes on the shelf, goes in the auction, which is primarily for premium items, or is unsuitable for sale. This sorter would separate items that could potentially benefit from higher online revenues (with a minimum price of ten dollars), take a picture of the item and upload it to the software, then store it in a separate back room storage space. When a customer decides to buy an item online, the item is automatically taken off the website and the store is notified in order for the item to be tagged as sold. The customer has 48 hours to pick up the item, otherwise they are charged a three dollars a day penalty for up to five days. If the item is not picked up, the customer is charged for the purchase and the item is put onto the store shelf to follow the normal cycle of a Goodwill donation. For those who do not own computers, a computer donated by Goodwill’s own Computer Works program will be set up at each store for customers to browse through the online catalog. In terms of initial setup, the cost and labor would be relatively minimal. After setting up the software, Goodwill would employ an online supervisor to look after the site, but the rest of the labor would be divided up at the stores. Stores already employ a sorter to go through donated items and storage space already exists at the retail locations. If the job of taking pictures and uploading them becomes too difficult for present personnel, stores could choose to hire an employee in charge of these responsibilities – a welcome hire that be a result of increased commerce and revenue. Managers would also be sent an easy to follow PDF of instructions for setting up their online presence.

Currently, a number of store managers are pulling items from store shelves and taking pictures of them to upload on eBay because they feel Goodwill can fetch a higher price for them online. As for bookselling on the web, Goodwill often sells titles on Amazon through pseudonyms in order to avoid negative customer feedback. A Goodwill shopping website would eliminate these clandestine enterprises and help organize and legitimize all the current internet commerce activity under the umbrella of the Goodwill name.

The website's Austin page

The website was designed to contrast the cluttered, claustrophobic feel of a retail Goodwill store by employing a cleaner, more minimal aesthetic that wouldn’t overwhelm the customer. A shopper can browse through all the items available around town, or choose particular categories that interest them, such as computers, art, or furniture. At the city home page, Goodwill can also educate its users about its mission statement and other programs like its computer recycling initiative or donation events through the header space at the top of the site. Along with items for sale online, customers can browse through items available for auction at each store around town. The website also offers RSS subscription capabilities that allow for instant updates for subscribers on new items available by category or keyword search. If the website were to become successful, there would be the potential for other cities and communities to set up their own browse and shop stores, and these stores would be networked in one, orderly site.

To market the website, we’ve employed a three-step strategy based around Goodwill’s limited advertising budget. Goodwill Industries of Central Texas had attempted an online store for its Computer Works program in the past, but according to their Marketing Director Suzanha Burmeister, it failed primarily because of three reasons – inadequate software, limited supply, and ineffective marketing. Our first marketing strategy would be to target shoppers who are already inclined to shopping for used items at Goodwill stores by advertising at the Goodwill retail outlets with informative posters, shopping bags, and handouts in hopes that these shoppers would not only continue to visit the stores, but supplement their actual visits with online ones. Our second strategy is to utilize the viral media capabilities of the internet to inform those who spend a large amount of time on the web daily. This includes informing news media and local blogs, such as the Austinist and the Austin Chronicle, about the non-profit website in order to generate news stories about the site. Social networking site like MySpace and Facebook would also be employed to market the site. This viral online campaign would also be supplemented by digital advertising using web commercials and banners. Finally, if a large number of people still have not been exposed to the new website, then traditional methods of advertising would be utilized including newspaper ads, billboards, and radio spots.

In store poster advertisement

When asked about the likelihood of shopping at Goodwill online, one interviewee at Barton Creek Square Mall offered, “I’d be more likely to go to the website if there was a website than I would be to go to the Goodwill store.” With more and more people becoming acclimated to shopping online and spending larger amounts of time on the internet overall, the potential for greater revenue exists for Goodwill if it were to have an online entity. Not only would Goodwill potentially make more revenue by selling items online for higher prices, it would also provide an alternative storefront for those reluctant to visit its retail locations.

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