Reinventing the Charity Shop



In the past decade we have seen charity shops in the UK transition from small, quaint rummage shops to well laid out, warehouse style, megastores, with Cancer Research and Oxfam at the forefront of the evolution.  This is due, in no small part, to the Mary Portas Effect.  Mary Portas is a retail expert and consultant in the UK, who in 2009 created a series of TV shows reviving charity shops, advising managers and volunteers of a Save the Children store on methods they could employ to bring more custom through the door, and to encourage people to spend more money with them.  Soon enough other charity’s followed suit, rebranding and refitting stores, and organising stock in a way that would not be out of place in a TK Maxx.  Curated charity shops slowly became the norm and did indeed encourage more custom with well lit, colourful, neatly arranged decor and items for sale.



Soon enough, Charity Shop bosses began to realise the potential these shops had to raise significant amounts of money for their respective charities.  As the high street has declined and shopping on the internet has grown exponentially, opportunities have become available for the charity shops to take prominent positions on our main high streets and to become a part of our everyday shopping experience.



The obvious progression seemed to be to take inspiration from the USA Goodwill stores.  With the decline of the town centre high street comes the increase of the out of town retail parks, and here you will find a well placed Charity Shop Superstore! Vast spaces of curated items laid out in a department store style.  We have a Cancer Research Superstore close to us, and we love it.  We can never resist a hunt through the media, clothes and bric and brac they have on offer.  It’s easy to navigate and pleasant to shop there.  In an instagram age, it is more important than ever to cater to the customer expectation for a visually pleasing experience when shopping.



Recently we visited the new flagship Oxfam Superstore near Oxford.  This was an experience to behold, offering not only second hand shopping, but also new items, a cafe, and refill stations for household cleaners, and shower and bath products.




With climate change and sustainability at the forefront of recent culture, and the customer’s mind, charity shopping has taken prime position within socially conscious retail habits.  Donating to, and shopping in charity shops help to reduce waste and carbon emissions, saving over 300 tonnes of textiles from going to landfill over the course of just a year!

The current trend for all things vintage is another angle that charities have grasped a hold of and run with.  We now see many charity shops branding themselves as Vintage shops and outlets, with the stores separating out their vintage stock to send to their specialist stores, or setting aside specific vintage areas in existing stores.  Selling an item as ‘vintage’ allows the stores to increase the prices and their profits, and attracts a different kind of customer than seen in previous years.

However are the larger chains losing sight of the social benefits they once provided?  Low price clothing and household items for low income families and individuals.  A support during difficult financial times.  In our modern culture, charity shop bosses must take in to account that if a customer can buy a Primark dress for £10 they will not want to spend £7 or £8 for it in a charity shop, even if it still has it’s retail tag attached!  The on trend branding attracts the customer, but bargain hunting customers are also still savvy enough to know that they can acquire equivalent items from jumble sales and boot sales for a fraction of the price.  There has to be a measure of sense when it comes to pricing.  With people donating more than ever, in a conscious effort to lower waste and to repurpose, the stores could be in danger of being overstocked and find it difficult to sell it all.  A compromise needs to be found.

One thing is for sure, the stigma of buying second hand and shopping in charity shops is lifting.  In many ways it is becoming the trendy thing to do, but looking to the future of the charity shop, is there a way to combine it’s old purpose with a new vision?




  1. I visited that Oxford Oxfam superstore shortly after it opened. I left with nothing as I found the prices too high. It’s a nice store and the idea is great with the cafe and everything but if your prices are too high people will not make a return visit. I won’t bother to go back


  2. I do love a good rummage through an Aladdin’s cave though. An independent charity shop has opened near me that doesn’t have prices on anything apart from the clothes, so shopping there is like being at a jumble sale. I bought a big playmobil almost complete castle for £1.50 that sold to the USA for £30 and a Le Crueset dish for 50p from this new charity shop.


  3. One thing I have noticed is smaller charity shops having their own eBay store and pricing items in their physical shops close to eBay prices. How long before all of them cut out the overheads and focus purely online? That would then put greater pressure on resellers finding treasure at car boots but at what cost? I think it’s worrying. I understand charity shops trying to make as much as possible but I just think for donated items, less is more. Keep the buyers and resellers happy and they will reap huge rewards and have a fresh rapidly moving ship floor.


    • I agree that less is more… the more they can turn over, the more they make in the long run and it would result in less waste of what they deem unsellable, because they can’t shift these items at the price they’re asking. There is always an abundance of donations. I think it would be detrimental for them to go online only. Their turnover and profit would ultimately drop hugely.


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