Charity shops boost

Nathalie Bonney's picture

As well as all the apocalyptic ‘The recession is nigh!’ stories, the media tries to mix things up a little with a few lighter-hearted ‘but look who is doing well’ pieces. Latest on the roll–call are charity shops.

It seems the newly budget–conscious British public are foregoing the prejudices against charity shops (smells like a cat shelter, full of other peoples’ tat and nothing of any real use…) and preparing themselves for a good rummage and the chance to come up with a real bargain.

The stats look impressive: the Salvation Army’s network of shops managed to increase netted profits by an impressive 64% to £6 million in one year. Sue Ryder Care also saw sales go up (by 35%) making £2.8 million in a year and Age Concern England, Save the Children and theChildren’s Society also all saw healthy profit rises.

The line goes that just as online traders Amazon and eBay, have seen a surge in their popularity in recent years, consumers aren’t willing to fork out on full price items at the shops when they can buy them for much less and still get good quality. This is all very good but if everyone is flogging their just–read bestsellers and too–small jeans online, what’s left for the charity shops?

Barnardo’s and Marie Curie Cancer stores’ profits dropped by a quarter from last year and shop managers cited people donating less goods and in general being more careful with their money as contributing factors towards their sales slumps. All of this goes against the media soundbite that all services/shops etc. that offer bargain prices can get ready for the good times. Think Miss Harvey Nicks going to Help the Aged for a new party dress. Unlikely.

Leading where others should follow, Oxfam, the doyenne of charity shops, managed to bounce back from a 20% fall in profits last year with profits of £21 million this year. Oxfam’s outfit has always been a bit slicker than some other charity shops thanks to its strong branding and sale of new fair-trade items. So as well as buying a denim waistcoat circa 1990 or ‘The complete Guide to Fondue Cookery’ you can bag yourself a handmade necklace, beautiful stationary or some afternoon tea treats and know that the profits are supporting communities in the developing world that can really benefit from them.

The charity’s website also has a lot more on it than other charity shops’ web pages, which tend to just display information about the charity and contact details. Its online shop isn't restricted to sales of its fair-trade goods and Christmas cards – or even its presents with a difference (where consumers ‘buy’ anything from school dinners in India to a goat in Uganda) – which is just really a way of donating to the charity.

Taking on Amazon – and to an extent eBay without the bidding – at their own sales game, the site has plenty of second–hand goods for users to look through. To launch the online shop, Oxfam even held a designer handbag sale, which saw the site crash thanks to the number of hits.

It’s currently running a promotion where customers who donate Marks & Spencers vouchers to any Oxfam stores, will receive a £5 gift voucher to spend at M&S – though this is on the proviso that you first spend £35 in store, making it less of a money saver.

In order to do well in the current climate Oxfam is trying to be innovative and come up with new ways to attract people to either its store or website. To attribute its (and other charity shops’) success completely to the economic downturn is too simplistic.

Here are some of my top tips for charity–shopping:

* Instead of hitting Waterstones first off, head to your local charity shop or better still find out where your nearest Oxfam bookstore is (there are over 120) for a wider range of titles.

*If you have specific items that you arelooking for then don’t expect to find them at your local charity shop. The fun of charity shops is browsing.

* Don’t fool yourself with the premise that if it’s for charity you can afford to buy it – even if you don’t really need it.

* Go to charity shops in richer areas: the charity shops in Cheshire get regular goodie (bin) bags from footballers’ wags.

Nathalie Bonney is editorial assistant at Moneywise

Your Comments

Sorry Nathalie, But it's stationery not stationary. Just remember it is E for Envelopes. I taught English for 25 years. Best Wishes, Jasper

Cringe - silly mistake there! Thanks very much Jasper.

Related articles