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7 ways to navigate a liquidation sale

"When you buy something as is, it can become rough to deal with a manufacturer, especially since it is always much easier to simply return an item to the retail store," says Southwick. "If you buy a TV, for example, at a liquidation sale, and you get it home and you find out it doesn't work, the manufacturer's warranty will likely cover it. However, if get the TV home, open the box and see that the screen is cracked, the warranty won't cover that, and your best bet to recover money is to dispute the charge with your credit card company.

"The manufacturer's warranty will cover the manufacturer's errors. It won't likely cover any damage done to the item after it leaves their factory. And of course, the liquidator is going to be of little help," Southwick says.

Check the item you're buying thoroughly

In as little as 30 to 60 days, the doors will be locked and the store empty. So if it's broken, it's yours. Open the box to make sure the item isn't damaged. Plug in a flat-screen TV in the store and make sure it works.

The help at these liquidations aren't clerks looking to find the best fit for you. They're from a liquidation company and want to sell and sell fast. Make sure you know what you're getting.

Donna Oe, chief executive of the BBB in Idaho Falls, Idaho, recently fielded a complaint from a consumer who bought a camera at a Circuit City liquidation sale.

"She asked to open the box to make sure everything was there and it was in good shape, but they wouldn't allow her," Oe says.  "When she got home, the camera was broken. When she tried to take it back, they wouldn't do a refund or exchange it. There can be bargains out there, but this one obviously was not. She's out at least $100." 

Pay with a credit card

If you can't return your item, paying with a credit card will give you more options. In fact, the BBB recommends consumers avoid paying with cash or check at liquidation sales and strictly use credit cards.

Using a credit card provides you with an extra level of protection because if the item you purchased is damaged and you can't return it, you can work toward getting your money back by disputing the charge with the credit card company.


Check BBB and your state or county consumer agency

Consumer Reports says that jewelry, Oriental rug and electronics liquidations are sometimes scams in which nonstore items are sold illegally.

"There are different laws in different states. Some states say if you are going out of business, you cannot order more inventory to the floor. But other states don't," Southwick says.

For example, Wyoming, Tennessee, Nevada, North Dakota, Nebraska, Mississippi, Colorado and Arizona have no laws on the books strictly regulating going-out-of-business sales, Southwick says.

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