Are charity shops losing the plot? A few years ago, it was possible to pop into a high street charity shop and pick up a nice little bargain. On the odd occasion, you still can. But more often than not, and increasingly so, I walk out empty-handed. Soon, I doubt I shall bother walking in at all. Why? This might be a contentious statement - and I would love to hear about exceptions to this trend - but I think that charity shops have become - dare I say it? - greedy; not only this, but in their greed they have also become out of touch with reality. If I want to pay 'what it's worth', I will go to an antiques, quality secondhand or bric-a-brac shop which, after all, are paying higher rates and are often struggling to stay open; charity shops also clearly do not offer the same 'shopping experience' as an independent shop which has put its objects into an inviting interior with an attractive backdrop. No: the enjoyment previously experienced when visiting charity shops was the joy at scooping up some coveted item which one had little hope of affording elsewhere. Now, such items are picked up with excitement but, on seeing the price, put back down again in disappointment. Recent examples have been: sets of vintage plates with faded designs which might have tempted for a tenner, but not when offered at an eye-watering £45; Hornsea pieces at around £10 an item - or at any rate, more than I would pay for them on eBay; and books I'd gladly snap up for my collection, were they not hastily replaced once the price on the inner cover was revealed.
The shops will argue that their job is to raise as much money as they can for their charity and that only by putting the highest possible value on objects will they achieve this aim. But in reality they are alienating the very public on whom they rely for support, and in the process, shooting themselves in the foot. Would it not be better to have a greater turnover of goods than to price products irritatingly high (I mean, who would pay the same (sometimes even more!) for a used item of clothing in a charity shop than what it costs in a brand's 'as new' sale?) ; then have customers walk away, and items which could be filling the shelves and rails sitting in bags waiting for spaces? Often, the customers who donate goods are the same ones who, in turn, would like to spend a little money in the shop and pick up a bargain, so it's a shame that the pricing deters them from effectively making a double donation.
But it's not just this. Many members of the public donate these items in good faith, not only because they want to help the charity itself, but also because they want to do their bit for their community: in charity shop days-of-old, this was where people on the breadline could find a lifeline: in clothing; toys and books for their kids; kitchen essentials; something for a pound or two. At a car-boot sale last year, I was shocked to hear a seller say that they were taking everything they didn't sell that day to the recycling centre. "Couldn't you drop it off at a charity shop?" I asked. "I don't do that anymore," they replied, "the people I want to benefit can't afford to go to charity shops, so I'd rather donate to clothes banks and recycle." Hmm...her comments struck a cord as I'd been having a couple of begrudging thoughts myself lately. Charity shops need to listen up. In denial about it they may be, but they have a dual function and duty: it's not just about the charity they represent, it's also about the community they serve. Charity begins at home.
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