The ups and downs of a charity shop 'shopper'
When I was a little girl I was mortified to be seen going into a charity shop with my mother, I was scared to death that somebody would recognize me and I would ultimately be talk of the school come Monday morning. It goes without saying that people often look down on other people who are less fortunate in life. My mother on the other hand didn’t care; she loved finding a bargain and didn’t hide the fact that her M&S shoes were in fact from Barnardo’s. What she saved on clothes, she spent on treating us to a family holiday or birthday party.
I learnt the hard way; my mother’s persistence paid off and charity shopping was much the norm in our family. It for one meant I never went without; I was forever changing my style often as quick as my mood.
By the time I had left school I was pretty much addicted to shopping in charity shops. Friends would often be astonished when I told them how little I paid for something, but in all the whole concept of shopping second-hand was alien to them. One friend in fact made a snide remark once about being able to afford to shop in high street stores and spend £50 on one dress… But this didn’t bother me any more, I knew I could probably buy several dresses, a bag, a coat and a skirt and still have some change left over out of that amount. The variety of choice and thrill of finding a unique piece outweighed everything that Topshop were offering; the bottom line was that I was proud to be a 'charity shop shopper'.
Seven years on and it hasn’t changed for me. I love finding a bargain and I love discovering a piece of the past. I will devote a whole day to charity shopping with my mother, and one thing for sure is that we will never grow old of this past time.
The popularity and growth of the quintessential charity shop means what once was a niche alternative has fast become an overcrowded surge of the market. This therefore brings upon the issue of pricing. I still believe tucked away in a small village there is a charity shop full of eccentric and wonderful wares being sold for pittance, but it seems the boom for business has ultimately sent the tills crazy.
If a charity shop (for example my town’s British Heart Foundation) is fitted out to the standard of a regular shop, tills, lighting, organised racks, mannequins, sizing tags, then usually it will be run like a shop, there are overheads to think about.
If you think about the small charity shop tucked away in the village for a moment - you know the one that hasn’t had power since 1984 and clothes are thrown in boxes, on top of bric-a-brac and the lady behind the till volunteers every Monday afternoon whilst her husband plays bowls - then baby, you’ve just hit the jackpot.
Then there’s the relentless problem with stock; the one rule that only exists within a charity shop, is that unlike the high street, and unlike any other shop you will come across where they embrace the mass market, a charity shop only stocks ONE of each item - simple. It’s literally a case of finder’s keepers. That sought after vintage satchel will be gone in seconds, those cameo pendants in the window – yes there already reserved for somebody else. So we’ve established a few nuisances already, but please don’t get me wrong the rise of the charity shop can only mean one thing right? More money for our charities. Which hopefully should mean we’ve achieved the goal we set out on achieving in the first place? Hurray!
But for the selfish bargain hunter like me, it can only be a downward spiral of disappointment. However I have come to realise that we can’t live in a petty war of pricing. At the end of the day however much something is, if it’s got that thrill factor about it, then you will pay the price (within reason). Be it 99p, £2.99 or £7.99 etc.
Not only am I told by my boyfriend that we live in a turbulent economy and therefore it is only natural that prices do increase, you have to remember that nothing is free. Though the strong argument is that the stock donated was ‘free’, giving it away would surely defeat the object of trying to raise money in the first place. The people who donate to charity (including myself) are able to feel a sense of good that they are helping towards a deserving cause, so surely it is only right a sensible and fair price for the consumer and shop is reached.
However, the problems a lot of us are facing are staff. Yes they’ve got wise. It’s almost like they swallowed a fashion dictionary of brands and designers. But what really is causing all the trouble is the fact that they sometimes fail to take into account the actual condition of the garment. The elusive ‘brand’ of tag sends them into so much of a frenzy they completely bypass the sweat marks and missing button. So this is why you would see a run-of-the-mill Primark sweater priced at a somewhat unjustifiable £4.99.
So it’s a little naïve to think that you are going to drop on a designer one off (though you might, you never know), when stock has been rigorously checked and pilfered through before it even hits the shop floor. And the first customer is in. And then there’s another one, and then that woman you passed in the doorway, yes she’s got your designer frock in her carrier bag! Ouch…
It’s not possible to be at the charity shop all day long, everyday. Just like it’s not possible to buy every single scratch-card in the newsagents. It’s simply a matter of luck, chance and perseverance. I personally find this combination the most rewarding.
So, the above may be a pathetic attempt at providing an observation/study/opinion on the modest charity shop we all know and love, but taking all of the above into consideration… am I worried? Not in the least, as I well know what may be a popular place to shop now, will not be popular tomorrow.