Are Charity Shops Misunderstood?

Are charity shops misunderstood or have they evolved to become much like any other high street retailer?

We all love a bargain whether we ‘need’ one or not. People with plenty of money to spend can be found pottering around in charity shops, just as those with limited budgets can also be found looking longingly at the wares of expensive department stores, running up their credit card bills.

There are no obvious rules or predictable patterns these days.

Common misconceptions about charity shops

  • They’re all filled with old junk, worn out dirty and faulty goods
  • Everything in them is cheap
  • Charity shops are for scroungers – nose turned up attitude
  • Charity shops are for poor people (depending on how you define poor)

Well none of the above is true.

The general stereotype of finding cheap clothes in a charity shop might be a bit dated.

“Greedy’ charity shops under fire for prices beyond means of poor” Guardian Newspaper

Charity shops are bumping up the prices and you might find things cheaper in some of the known ‘fast fashion’ type retailers. The whole ‘fast fashion’ culture has really taken off in recent years.

On the one hand, charity shops are all about raising money for a cause, so the more money they make the better, meaning a push for higher prices is a good thing, right?

You’re donating to a cause not a greedy capitalist, so you don’t mind if it’s not all rock bottom prices….?

“Charity shops raise more than Β£330 million in a typical year, which funds medical research, overseas aid, environmental initiatives, supporting sick children, homeless people, disabled people, animal welfare, and many other good causes.”Β  Charity Retail Association

On the other hand

Some people who go to charity shops are looking for a bargain first and foremost.

In many cases, people on very small budgets might hope to get some good deals in a charity shop to save money, and I’m sure they do sometimes.

When I donate things to my local charity shops, I like to think that a local person will get my items at a bargain price – making them happy customers, and leaving me feeling like I’ve helped someone out. Embarrassingly perhaps, I’m not normally thinking about the actual charity as much as hoping my things reach someone who really needs them. Same difference, perhaps.

If prices are not bargain prices, then (in the short term) the people I want to help might not benefit.

Everything is second hand

Definitely not true. In the past, I’ve donated things that were new, sometimes still with tags on (never got round to returning them). I don’t feel bad about this if I think I’m helping someone else get it for less. I’ve donated new books that I had no desire to read, new lampshades, unwanted gifts, you name it.

Some shops get donations of brand new items directly from retailers, job lots in some cases.

You won’t find anything decent

Just not true. I’d be embarrassed to donate anything I thought was fit for the bin. That said, many charity shops will recycle donations they feel are unsuitable to sell in store, so don’t worry!

Mixed messages

I’ve spied books and dvds in charity shops knowing I could probably get them cheaper online, (brand new in many cases). But yes, I have also seen bargain prices too.

“The charity shops used to be cheap – all the stuff that used to be at jumble sales is in charity shops now but at a ridiculous price.” Source: Cornwall live

If your motivation is to put goods directly in the hands of those that need them the most, and quickly – charity shops might not always be the best choice.

There are other organisations and good causes that allow you to give, without those in need having to pay for the items. I think I’ll do a seperate post highlighting a few that I’ve come across, since they’re relatively invisible compared to your well known charity shops on the high street.

The Big Issue seller that got lucky with a charity shop….sort of!

I’ll call him Dan. When I stopped to buy his latest issue, Dan told me about the time he was stood selling The Big Issue in a more affluent part of London. That day, a range rover pulled up beside him and a man got out and walked over. The man was on his way to a charity shop to drop off all the clothes in his car boot, because they wouldn’t fit him anymore after losing a lot of weight. He opened the boot, and to Dan’s surprise, the boot was full, mostly of brand new designer clothes and belts.

The man encouraged Dan to take a look and help himself.

Lucky day? Well you’d think so wouldn’t you.

Dan took a few items and thanked the man.

The man seemed puzzled and pressed “is that all you want? Take more, take as much as you like, I don’t need any of it, it doesn’t fit”

Dan replied “Thanks but I won’t take too much. If I stand around in the street dressed in clothes like these, nobody will buy my ‘Big Issue’ cos’ I’ll look richer than them lol” πŸ™ƒ

The man took his point, though I’m sure he was probably a bit baffled by Dan’s ability resist. Admirable really!

Anyway – I just thought this random conversation really highlights the misconception about charity shops only offering second hand goods – as well as the fact that there are still people in the world of noble character!!



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37 thoughts on “Are Charity Shops Misunderstood?

  1. Pingback: Are Charity Shops Misunderstood? - Live Marketplaces UK

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  3. Liz Dexter

    This is an interesting post. I buy a fair bit from charity shops and really missed them during the pandemic – Oxfam Books was the first place I went between and after the lockdowns! I do worry that the prices are a bit high now for people who really need the clothing and other goods. I don’t donate books to charity shops as so many get thrown away (but I give them away or register them on BookCrossing and leave them on free bookshelves) but we do donate as much as we can.

    1. Cherryl

      Yes, the free bookshelves, like the ones you sometimes see in train stations – they’re another really good place to leave unwanted books. I saw a blog entitled ‘The Gentrification of Charity Shops’ and I think there’s a lot of truth in that. There are lots of bloggers/’influencers’ and youtube vloggers making regular videos of their charity shop hauls, it’s become trendy and fashionable to go thrift shopping, so I guess a lot of charity shops are capitalising on this, which is not good news for those who are truly in need of the lowest possible prices.

  4. Pingback: 5 Alternatives to Charity Shops: Give clothes to people who 'need' them. -

  5. Rebecca Cuningham

    This is a favorite topic for me, I go to our local thrift shop just about every week. Since we are in a college town, the clothes can be from around the world. I love the unique finds. Once about five years ago, I was haunting the aisles and a stranger came up to me and said in an angry tone, “You don’t need to shop here!” Little did he know the designer jeans I was wearing and fancy handbag I had bought at that very store for $8 and $20 respectively! How can we tell by looking what someone’s economic bracket is? As you pointed out, helping those who need it is part and raising funds is another reason for the charity shops. Our little store makes money for those having difficult times economically, for the food pantry they run, and they outfit families who need clothes and provide furniture. I feel good helping people with my purchases and it keeps my spending under control. Thanks for this great post.

  6. Oh, the Places We See

    A very interesting post, especially since my husband once ran the Habitat for Humanity Thrift Store in Knoxville. He had lots of new clothing that people had bought with the intent to lose weight. When that didn’t happen, they just donated it to the store! So keep shopping. There’s always good stuff: one man’s treasure, I suppose!
    Thanks for following our blog, Oh, the Places We See. We hope to be traveling again soon.

  7. Cathy Cade

    I missed the charity shops in lockdown. We have some good ones around here that get unsold goods from retail outlets. When I worked in Islington my lunch hours were spent in a charity shop where posh people offloaded their designer clothes. I could experiment with clothes I couldn’t afford to buy new and if they didn’t work, they could go back to another charity shop.
    Until recently I would collect bric-a-brac all year for a treasure hunt for my grown-up children at Christmas. Clues were staggered and whoever got to a treasure point first had first choice of what was there. (Some swapping might go on later.) Sadly, none of us now live in homes big enough to support a decent winter treasure hunt πŸ™

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