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Holiday shopping tip: This Amazon hack can save you over 70% every time you use it

Amazon has a secret store of discounted merchandise hidden behind the regular listings. Here's how to find it.

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Amazon houses thousands of discounted items in a secret online store where it liquidates customer returns and merchandise with damaged packaging at fractions of their retail prices.

Sarah Tew/CNET
This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2019, your source for the season's best gifts and deals, hand-picked by the experts at CNET.

If Black Friday discounts have left you with sticker shock now that retail prices have gone back to normal, you're going to love this shopping hack you can use every day of the year. I routinely save anywhere from a few bucks to over 70% off the retail price of just about everything I buy on Amazon by looking for the item I want on Amazon Warehouse Deals. And once you learn the trick, you can too.

The only catch -- apart from the fact the stuff isn't technically "new" -- is that Amazon doesn't exactly make it easy to find these discounted listings, so you'll have to play a little hide-and-seek, which isn't always easy. Sometimes, in fact, it can be so tricky to figure out whether or not a particular item is available through Amazon Warehouse that it almost seems like Amazon is hiding the discounts on purpose.

That's why I'm going to help navigate you through the labyrinth of Amazon listings and show you how to drill down until you find the best deal. Once you master this hack, you'll never want to pay full retail price on any Amazon item again.

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Whether you're on mobile or desktop, if you know how to find Amazon Warehouse Deals you can save up to 70% off a retail price.

James Martin/CNET

How to browse Amazon Warehouse Deals

If you're not in the market for anything in particular -- say you're just looking for gift ideas or killing time during your lunch break -- you can get to the Amazon Warehouse Deals landing page by heading to Amazon.com and searching for "Amazon Warehouse" or "Warehouse Deals." From there you can browse the categorized listings just as you would at any online retailer.

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How to find specific items from Amazon Warehouse

If you're anything like me, 99% of the time I shop on Amazon I know exactly what I'm looking for. If you already have something specific in mind but want to see if there's a discounted Amazon Warehouse option available, this is where your sleuthing skills come into play. 

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At the bottom of the box, click the link that reads, "Used & new (20) from $121.79" to get the discounted Amazon Warehouse listings for this item.

Screenshot by Dale Smith/CNET

First, pull up the item you want to buy just as you normally would on Amazon, but don't add it to your cart just yet. Scour the page, keeping your eyes peeled for words like "New & Used," "Buy Used,"  "New & Used Offers" or just plain "Used." 

Usually there'll be a price listed too, representing the cheapest option available (but not including tax or shipping costs). If you're not having any luck finding the link, try using your browser's "find" function (usually Control-F on Windows and Command-F on Macs) to look for these keywords.

Once you locate the link, look for items with "Amazon Warehouse" listed as the seller and an Amazon Prime logo displayed near the price. If Amazon Warehouse has more than one of the same item in stock, there will sometimes be a separate listing for each, especially if the items are in different conditions. 

Why Amazon Warehouse stuff is so cheap 

Just like other major retailers such as Walmart or Target, Amazon takes in a lot of customer returns, which it can no longer sell as new-in-box, regardless of why the buyer sent the item back or whether it's even been opened. 

That's why everything Amazon Warehouse sells is listed as used, even if the product itself has never been touched. Regardless of its condition, used stuff is just worth less -- sometimes a lot less. And that's good for you.

What to do when you get a lemon

Of the dozens (if not hundreds) of Amazon Warehouse listings I've bought over the years, I only ever ran into problems with a handful of them -- a Bluetooth adapter for my car that would randomly shut off, a wireless router that didn't broadcast any signal, a very well-worn puppy harness with dog hair stuck to it; stuff like that. 

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Don't throw away those Amazon boxes just yet -- if you do happen to receive an item that's broken or doesn't work, you'll need to return it to Amazon.

Claudia Cruz/CNET

Whenever that happens, I just return the item like I would any defective product, then order another one. Sure, it's a bit more hassle, but considering the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars I've saved over the years this way, it's worth the extra effort.

Truth is, most Amazon Warehouse items are in perfect working order -- many haven't even been so much as pulled out of their packages yet, like the Ring 2 Doorbell I got for $65 (it retails for $139) or the Baby Trend stroller I paid $81 for instead of $105. Even for stuff that has been taken out of the box, Amazon puts everything through what the company calls a "rigorous 20-point inspection process," after which each item is given a quality grade and priced accordingly. 

Some items may have cosmetic damage or be missing parts, accessories, instructions or assembly tools, but Amazon will detail any damage to the product or packaging, as well as any missing element along with the condition, so you won't be surprised. For example, I knew when I ordered a 100-watt Pyle amplifier for $29 that the accessories were loose and the amp would come repackaged. Who cares? I saved $15.

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The different quality grades and what they mean

Amazon has five different grades it assigns to items it resells. Here they are with brief explanations of what Amazon means by them.

Renewed: This is the highest grade an Amazon Warehouse item can receive and is on par with what other companies might call "refurbished." Renewed items have been closely inspected and tested and determined to look and function like new and come with a 90-day replacement or refund guarantee. The "refreshed" Roku Express Plus I ordered had never even been opened.

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The Amazon Warehouse listing for this product in Good condition costs $121.79. The same item in Very Good condition costs almost $7 more. Either option, however, is better than paying $164.99 for it brand-new.

Screenshot by Dale Smith/CNET

Used, Like New: No noticeable blemishes or marks on the item itself, although the packaging may be damaged, incomplete or missing all together. All accessories are included, and any damage to the package will be described in the listing. The box for the Like New Evenflo locking gate I saved $6 on was a little banged up, but I've seen way worse on Walmart's shelves. The gate itself was flawless.

Used, Very Good: Item has been lightly used, with minor visible indications of wear and tear, but otherwise in good working order. Packaging might be damaged, incomplete or the item repackaged. Any missing accessories will be detailed on the listing. I saved $4 on a Very Good Bosch Icon wiper blade that had, like, one scuff on it.

Used, Good: Item shows moderate signs of use, packaging may be damaged or the item repackaged and could be missing accessories, instructions or assembly tools. Another Bosch Icon wiper blade I got was only in Good shape, but I saved $15 on that one, and honestly I can't tell one from the other now that they're on my car.

Used, Acceptable: Very well worn, but still fully functional. Major cosmetic defects, packaging issues and/or missing parts, accessories, instructions or tools. I got an Echo Dot for $23 that was considered Acceptable. I think it has a scratch near the power port, but now it's on my nightstand where it does its job well, and mostly in the dark, for less than half the cost of a new one.

How to choose the right grade

If there are multiple listings with different grades available for the product I want to buy, I think about what I'm going to use it for. If it were something purely functional and I couldn't care less about its cosmetic condition, like hair clippers or a cordless drill, I'd go with the cheapest option, period. 

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The Ring 2 video doorbell normally retails for $200. As of early November, Amazon has it discounted to $139, however the Amazon Warehouse price is only $90.

Chris Monroe/CNET

If it's something I'd display, like a kitchen mixer, end table or wall clock, I'd read the descriptions a little more closely and look for items that are rated Very Good or Like New. 

But honestly, a low enough price on just about anything can woo me into dealing with some scratches or scuffs. Not to mention, in my experience, Amazon tends to err on the side of caution, marking items as Good or Acceptable that the average person would consider Very Good or Like New.

Officially no warranty, but your mileage may very

One of the benefits of purchases made through Amazon Warehouse is that Amazon's standard 30-day replacement or refund return policy applies, which comes in handy if you wind up with a lemon. Amazon does caution that because these products are considered used they don't come with the manufacturer's original warranty.

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Amazon Echo Dots can usually be had for over 50% off their retail price of $50 when Amazon Warehouse lists them for sale.

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

That said, if the product hasn't already been registered in someone else's name, there's a decent chance any issues you run into past Amazon's 30-day window can be resolved with a call to the manufacturer.

Amazon Prime members still get free shipping

Subscribing to Amazon Prime won't get you a bigger discount on Amazon Warehouse Deals, but you'll get free shipping just as you would for any other Prime-eligible item, which is why I still pay for Prime even though most of my purchases come from Amazon Warehouse.

Most of the stuff I've bought through Amazon Warehouse ships and arrives within the same one- to two-day window I get with new items, although some orders do take longer to fulfill. If that's the case, the extra handling time is usually indicated on the listing, so I know what to expect.

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Amazon Prime members don't get any extra discounts on Amazon Warehouse merchandise, but they still benefit from free and usually pretty fast shipping. 

James Martin/CNET

Third-party sellers and other deals

While wading around in the listings looking for Amazon Warehouse Deals you may have discovered even more discounted listings not sold by Amazon. What you've stumbled upon are items sold by third-party retailers whose only relationship with Amazon is that their items are for sale on Amazon's marketplace, much like eBay

However, Amazon's buyer protections lag considerably behind eBay's. eBay guarantees customers their money back in the event of a dispute, and although Amazon will ultimately do the same, its process is a bit more convoluted, so proceed with caution. Generally, if I can't find a good enough deal on Amazon Warehouse, I'll tab over to eBay and look for the item there instead. eBay is a little more transparent about both its vendors and the merchandise they sell. If I'm going to buy garage-sale used as opposed to Amazon's never-opened used, I prefer eBay.

Of course, Amazon will be participating in this year's big Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales too, with some deals starting as early as Nov. 22. We've assembled all of this month's Amazon deals in one place here, but if you're looking for deals you can take advantage of today we have a list of all the Amazon deals available right now right here. But don't limit yourself to just Amazon, when Best Buy's deals are available now, as are sales at Target.

Originally published last month.