Outfitting or Off-Putting – The Great Charity Shop Debate Continued…
The exorbitant sums that some charity shops now charge… Is it right? I’m beginning to think not. And not for the reasons previously touted elsewhere.
To put this into some context I frequent six to eight charity shops around two or three times a week. I estimate that I spend somewhere in the region of £300 a month in charity shops. According to my tax returns I have done this for years. It’s a nice feeling that 90% of what we need to live and run a business we can find second hand. I would not change it for a second. No one in their right mind would want a charity to make anything less than the value of their items. I have given a few of my favourites copies of my books to help them look out for brands and styles. I want them to keep going.
Yet sometimes I am put off by charity shops. I will admit it. I find some of them greedy and I sometimes find them unethical. Looking past the fact that some charity shop workers do not know that Atmosphere is Primark and that no item should be priced above a pound or two (EVERYWHERE) and that sparkly New Look shoes cannot be priced at £10.99 when they are in the sale in the actual shop for £7.99 (you should know better, Oxfam). Regardless of the fact that you cannot price something as ‘new’ just because it still has a price tag attached (where has it been?). There are some things I find unforgivable. There are two examples I wish to share. These happened in big brand high street chains.
1) Last year I saw a stunning 50s tiara with attached wedding veil in a second hand shop. The shop in question had a ‘vintage section’ – more on that later. The veil was priced at £45. The tiara had spokes of aurora borealis and the netting, although not fine, was in good condition. It was not a particularly sophisticated piece but it was immaculate. I would have said a fair price would have been £25 – £30 (unless you are putting it in a West London wedding dress shop, but that’s a whole new blog – one I will explore at a later date.) They would not budge on the price and over time it went through a very sorry decline. First a spoke was pulled off. The next time the netting had a tear. By my third visit a second row of beads made an escape across the floor, I just could not witness the destruction anymore. I picked it up and pointed out to the manager that it was a shame that it was getting ruined ‘at least try and fix it?’ I reasoned, ‘before you have nothing less to sell. Or maybe reduce the price to reflect its condition’. It was removed from the shop floor, never to been seen again. Had it been priced a bit better the charity would have made a sale and a happy bride could have looked after it.
2) Three days ago I went to another well-known charity shop with branches nationwide and witnessed another careless act. Volunteers were being ordered to remove the bric-a-brac that had been on the shelves for over a week…and bin it. Yes, throw it in the bin. It all went in an industrial waste bin on the pavement outside. Some of that stuff was perfectly usable and sellable. Here is an idea: why not reduce it a bit? Sell it for a pound or two instead of trying to get £3.99? I wouldn’t want my donations to end up in landfill. That’s not right in my book. This was done in front of customers. How is that going to encourage people to donate?
I’m going to touch on another contentious issue. The ‘vintage section’. The shop that had the aforementioned wedding tiara is full of 70s crimplene priced between £19.99 and £29.99 (actual value £10-15 TOPS) Yet in the non-vintage section I pulled out a silk 60s Norman Hartnell for far less. In the shop across the road the manageress was proudly showing me the Polly Peck dress she has priced at £20 yet elsewhere in the shop was a 1950s cotton novelty print St Michael skirt for £7.50. The problem is, good vintage looks timeless, whilst terrible ‘vintage’ that is more obviously old and outdated seems to be priced higher. I guess my beef with charity shops that have a vintage section is that they seem to be running on guesswork. In my humble, those pricing the products are not looking close enough at the items. They are seeing old, pricing high and ignoring quality and aesthetic. My other half has a similar issue with records. Little attention to condition and pricing based on one instance of an eBay Buy-It-Now.
We do have one chain down here who get it right most of the time: The Rowan’s Hospice – 1980’s Laura Ashleys for £10 and simple 1950s dresses for £20. More than happy to pay that. They obviously have someone on board who knows their stuff but, crucially, they also recognise that they need to balance their pricing if they want their items to actually sell. No wonder they have expanded across Hampshire at a rate of knots.
OK, so there are costly overheads and targets to meet. Fine, I understand that. I work in two shops. However the busiest ones I know are the no-nonsense indies that price everything equally and put it all out on the shop floor. If shops skim off all the interesting bits to sell to dealers, the internet or worse, or let them get damaged beyond any real use due to over pricing, what do they think is going to attract people into their shop? A £4 Primark top? I think not.
So what is the answer? I am genuinely interested. Do you work for a well-known chain of charity shop? I can only comment on what I know as a consumer. Or have you experienced something similar. Do you have a completely different view? Please comment below.