Over the last couple of years, charity shops and thrift stores have become a magnet for bargain hunters. Austerity measures, a global recession and high inflation has meant that designer goods are less affordable, and savvy shoppers are increasingly sourcing their clothing second hand. Celebrities have also donated outfits that have sold for four figure sums, causing bargain hunters to travel hundreds of miles to London charity shops in order to buy something owned by a star.
Charity shops, thrift stores and op-shops are also responsible for offering charity jobs and volunteer work to millions of people, helping them to up-skill, gain experience, meet friends and supplement their social lives. The value of this kind of charity work cannot be understated, both to the charity and to the people who benefit from their involvement.
But now thrift is in Vogue, are the poor being priced out of the market? And what does this mean for the future of the high street in general?
The Price of Charity
A recent report in the Guardian highlights the problem with British charity shops. In affluent areas, charity shops are raising prices and capitalising on the desire for retro goods. The shop’s volunteers and workers are more connected and tend to know a bargain when they see one; if unsure, they can turn to Google, or eBay, to find the going rate.
It’s not just the poor that feel this is a bad move for charities. Shoppers who enjoy rummaging for surprise bargains are increasingly finding there are none to be found. Instead, designer goods are prominently displayed and sold for much higher prices than they would have been 10 years ago.
Internet auction sites tapped into a market for vintage goods, second hand trading and convenience, and it’s inevitable that charity shops had to evolve to keep up. But in trying to keep pace with the internet, is the thrift store losing the thrill, excitement and unpredictability that kept shoppers spending?
The High Street Effect
In the UK, charity shops occupy a large number of retail units; there are 10,000 charity shops around the country, creating plenty of roles for volunteers. Charity shops receive a discount on the cost of utilities, but they are still struggling to make ends meet. Despite that, they are thought to be putting nearby stores out of business because they can undercut them massively.
In Australia, the situation is similar. Op-shops are so-called because of the ‘opportunity’ to bag a bargain. Now, shoppers feel that prices are too high, and op-shops are failing the people who used to rely on them. People who use op-shops to buy basics – clothing, household goods and furniture – are finding that new items are sometimes cheaper than used goods.
Nonetheless, charity shops continue to make money for good causes, and it’s difficult to be critical of charities that do so much to support good causes that may otherwise fall by the wayside. In times of financial hardship, perhaps shoppers should expect to pay a little more to ensure the truly needy people in the world are supported as they have always been.
By Sam Wright
Sam Wright is a writer and researcher. If you want to support a London charity, Sam recommends checking out the job boards at Third Sector Jobs.