How to tell if a $.99 clearance collectible is worth the investment
If you’re a collector, you know there’s nothing like finding a good deal on a collectible. And when it comes to clearance racks, who could avoid taking a peak?
We’ve all seen stories about once common items becoming massively valuable in the future. So when stores throw clearance sales – including online storefronts like Amazon – it’s easy to dive headfirst to unearth hidden gems. But are clearance sale collectibles even worth the low prices stores are selling them for? Well strap on your bargain hunting caps, because we’re going to analyze your odds of striking gold for cheap.
Remember why collectibles go on clearance.
Okay, there’s actually a lot of different reasons an item can go on clearance. But in one way or another, all reasons are the result of the same root problem: no one wanted to buy it.
As we’ve discussed in past articles, the value of a collectible is based on supply and demand. The rarest collectibles – like Action Comics #1 – are mega valuable because there are so few copies that still exist today. On the other hand, a collectible could literally be one-of-a-kind and still worth nothing if no one’s interested in it. This is why an eBay auction isn’t a reliable indication of an item’s value: it’s not worth anything if it doesn’t get any bids.
An item on clearance has already “failed” the supply and demand test. Because no one was willing to buy it at the MSRP, it’s now being discounted so the store can get rid of it. In other words, an item on clearance is already at a disadvantage for its long term value. Assume this is the case for almost all items you see on clearance, though there are some exceptions.
When can a clearance item become valuable?
If all the stars align, there are three distinct scenarios in which a clearance item can become valuable in the future. Here are your best possible outcomes:
- Good item at a bad location: There are times that an otherwise valuable item at a physical location just isn’t valued by the locals. For example, people were spending $10-20 on Super Mario Cereal online when some supermarkets had stacks that they couldn’t get rid of fast enough. Sites like Brickseek can help you find unusually cheap items that are out of your normal shopping radius.
- Unexpected appreciation over time: Items that are common one day can become coveted decades later. A good illustration of this is Goosebumps books. R. L. Stein’s horrors were everywhere in the 90s, but many of the early installments got destroyed or damaged due to careless kids and cheap paper. Now you can fetch a decent sum for the right book in good condition.
- Sheer dumb luck: Sometimes, an item that shouldn’t be on clearance just is by accident. For instance, Nintendo Switch collectors have found rare, unreal deals on games accidentally priced as much as their cheaper Xbox or Playstation counterparts. Some stores may refuse to sell the item in these cases, but if the price is honored, then congratulations on beating the system.
Is it worth it to hunt for rare clearance items?
The truth of the matter is, finding a valuable clearance item requires borderline clairvoyance. You might win the lottery and spot a holy grail for cheap, but otherwise you’re hoping a common item today becomes a gem in the distant future.
This isn’t to say collectors shouldn’t scour clearance racks when they can. In some cases, you could find cool stuff that you’d love to throw on your shelf for cheap. Other times, you might discover a collectible that you didn’t want at MSRP, but makes a great impulse buy at a discount. As long as you try to snag things you want now, you won’t be disappointed if an item doesn’t become valuable in the future.
The thrill of the hunt is half the fun of collecting, but it’s important to keep your expectations in check. Once that’s established, clearance shopping is a great way to collect for cheap. It’s unlikely that you’ll find that once-in-a-lifetime rarity at a 90% discount. But there is a chance, and that’s the important part.