Are charity shops becoming too greedy?

By Laura Pedley

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We had a debate in the Cause4 office about this in the Guardian questioning whether charity shops are becoming too greedy with prices beyond the means of the poor. The article describes a situation that appears to becoming increasingly common: charity shops are raising their prices as it seems that “charity wardrobe chic” is raising the prices of items above the reach of poorer people.

This was a really interesting debate – and one which I find myself unable to come down 100% on either side. So let’s take a look at the arguments:

For higher prices in charity shops:
•    The purpose of the charity shop is to make money for its cause. If they are able to sell for a higher price, they will raise more funds.
•    If shops are donated high quality products, they should be priced according to their value.
•    The best way to thank donors is to get the best possible price, in turn raising as much as possible for the charity’s work.
•    Charities are now raising funds from lower quality donations through different means: books are being sold for pulp, and clothes are sold by the bag for the material. This leaves only the higher quality items to be sold in the shops. It could be that that the average overall price is higher because the quality of items is better, rather than prices being dramatically increased.

For lower prices in charity shops:
•    Part of the role of charity shops in local communities is to provide affordable second-hand items. It is unreasonable that some items cost about the same as they do new.
•    Charity shops don’t solely exist to make a profit as the amount that they make is not that high. They are situated on the high street for PR and marketing purposes, and to provide a link between the charity and the local community.
•    People don’t just donate their items to raise money for charity; they also want them to be used again. People often donate to charity shops knowing that someone else can get good use out of something they don’t need anymore. Lower prices mean that poorer people can benefit from these donations.
•    Higher priced items don’t sell as quickly – charity shops might raise more money from selling more things at a lower price.

It seems as though charity shops are becoming increasingly run like businesses, attempting to increase their profit margin above all else. It is obvious and irrefutable that the main aim of the charity shop is to raise money for its cause. The charity shop’s primary responsibility is raising money for its work, not providing a cheap shopping option. To this end it would seem that charity shops should raise their prices as high as possible. But is this the best strategy?

Given that the primary objective is to raise money, I think it would be prudent for charity shops to think about their longer-term fundraising in the bigger picture. Being viewed favourably by the local community will have a positive impact for the charity, increasing donations, sales and volunteers. Having the same stock week in week out is likely to deter browsers, but a regular turnover of stock is likely to increase shoppers. Also, it is possible that selling more at a lower price could be as beneficial as selling less at a higher price. There is no point pricing an item so high that it simply sits on the shelf and never sells.

Whilst charity shops should be focusing on raising as much money for their work as possible, I would urge staff not to get too hung up about the pricing of individual items. Instead think about the longer-term positive impact of having regular satisfied customers, and a positive reputation within the local community.

What do you think about the increasing prices? Have you ever volunteered in a charity shop? We’d love to hear your thoughts and stories. Leave a comment below or contact us on twitter: .