Vietnamese hunt to buy unclaimed packages

By Ngoc Ngan   November 17, 2023 | 04:05 am PT
Pham Bao Khanh spent 40 minutes of his lunch break “hunting” unclaimed packages, and managed to buy a book for four times cheaper than its listed price.

"If you know where to look, you’ll find greater deals," said the 30-year-old from Bac Lieu Province.

Khanh has been buying unclaimed packages for around two years.

"Rejected packages are packages that were ordered online but then the buyer refused to accept them when delivered. Once the packages are sent back to the warehouse, they are resold for 30-50% cheaper," he explained.

"The catch is that the buy can’t check or return the packages," he said.

Unclaimed packages that Bao Khanh bought in September 2023. Photo courtesy of Khanh

Unclaimed packages that Bao Khanh bought in September 2023. Photo courtesy of Khanh

According to a survey conducted by VnExpress, there are 20 groups specializing in selling unclaimed packages on Vietnamese social media. The largest group has 20,000 members, posting an average of 20-30 posts a day.

Hoang Long, an unclaimed package seller in Ho Chi Minh City, said reselling packages became popular this year after beginning last year when e-commerce warehouses needed a way to deal with abandoned shipments after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The packages are not returned to the original shipper because the sellers do not want to pay for storage and transportation.

Nowadays, these rejected packages are popular among customers 18-35 years old due to the cheaper pricing and variety of products, including makeup, clothing and electronic devices.

Nguyen Tuyet, a seller and administrator of an online group for unclaimed package "hunters" with 17,400 members, said she usually buys from warehouses for one-third of the original price.

Nguyen Manh Tan, the marketing director of Haravan—a company that supplies retail and e-commerce solutions said that packages sold on e-commerce sites have a failed delivery rate of four to six percent, but the percentage is higher for orders from sale livestreams, going up to 25-30 percent.

In particular, cash-on-delivery (COD) orders have the highest percentage of rejections because the buyers feel a lower sense of responsibility. Many often order on a whim instead of actually needing the product. By the time the product gets to them, they have outgrown their desire for it.

Tan asserted that buyers of rejected packages have the chance to buy quality products for cheap. However, there is a risk that the product has expired while sitting in the warehouse without anyone knowing, and the buyer may feel resentful that they bought a spoiled product.

Tuyet revealed that when the unclaimed package-hunting trend began, some sellers intentionally created fake rejected packages. They put together a bunch of small, low-quality products and printed a fake shipping slip to make it seem like someone had ordered them.

"It’s not always the real deal, so everyone needs to be careful," Tuyet said.

Nguyen Tuyet checks unclaimed packages in a warehouse in Nam Tu Liem District, Hanoi, Oct. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Tuyet

Nguyen Tuyet checks unclaimed packages in a warehouse in Nam Tu Liem District, Hanoi, Oct. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Tuyet

Once every three weeks, e-commerce warehouses distribute 300 to 400 unclaimed packages in large bundles to wholesalers who then sell the individual packages to retail customers.

Dr. Nguyen Minh Phong, the former head of the Economic Studies Department at the Hanoi Institute for Socio-Economic Development Studies, said there’s nothing wrong with reselling unclaimed orders, but measures need to be developed against counterfeiting and tax evasion.

Nguyen Van Tam, a professor at Van Lang University’s Faculty of Commerce, pointed out that from a market perspective, unclaimed packages themselves can be disadvantageous for the parties involved: E-commerce sites lose the payment fee they charge all sellers, the time and effort of the shipper are wasted, and the original sellers gain no revenue.

"The amount of such packages should be reduced as much as possible before we create a better solution to deal with what’s left," Tam said.

Tam added that in order to be sustainable, all parties must be honest. The seller needs to provide all the information about a product, including any deficiencies, so the buyer can decide whether the price they are paying is worth it or not.

Although he had to discard some unusable products, Bao Khanh is still loyal to the rejected package group. He said that eight out of his every 10 purchases have been successful, while only two in ten packages have had any defaults.

"I still think it’s cheaper than buying at stores," Khanh concluded. "If there’s demand, there will be supply."

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