It should come as a surprise to nobody that the pandemic kicked the high street while it was down. On top of the struggles that bricks and mortar retail has faced in the past decade, the sudden loss of footfall brought shop closures to a new peak, with statistics from this year indicating that roughly 50 stores closed every day across 2020 and 2021. Charity shops weren’t immune to this downturn, and even faced problems unique to the sector, such as a huge loss to volunteer numbers, and following the end of lockdown this figure is still 20% shy of pre-pandemic numbers. We ourselves even reported that this period had produced the worst landscape for public giving since we began polling.
A year ago, however, we saw a glimmer of hope as reports started emerging that activity in charity shops was up. Last summer it was reported that spending had risen to 7% higher than pre-pandemic levels, whilst the number of items sold online by charity shops apparently rose by 151% between February and July 2021. It’s been a period of recovery in part thanks to inspired campaigns such as Age UK’s 2022 challenge, a year long donation drive, but also through the sector embracing a technological revolution in how it reaches customers.
So, equipped with sector data from our Charity Awareness Monitor, it’s about time we look at the year gone by, and ask once again: how is charity retail faring?
There’s still a lot of demand
First and foremost, in our most recent round of polling we determined that about 7 in 10 members of the public have been to a charity shop in the past year. This is a promising figure, demonstrating that a clear majority are willing to support charity shops, with 1 in 5 going in more than five times in a year. In addition, 64% of respondents agreed that charity shops are reliable for shopping, a potential sign that fans of thrifting are likely to make for return customers.
Affordability is a charity shop's greatest strength
75% of the public told us that they believe that charity shops are good places to find a bargain, which is likely to be one of the key factors surrounding the sector’s recovery following the pandemic. With the cost of living crisis leaving the public with less disposable income, it’s no wonder that we’re once again turning to charity shops such as the Salvation Army, who reported sales figures last week which were 22% higher than they had been pre-pandemic. This is a definite indicator that second-hand shopping is being adopted as a widespread strategy by a struggling public.
There’s potential for Gen Z to get more involved
Though charity shops have a history of being thought of as old-fashioned, we found that more of the public disagree with this sentiment (37%) than agree with it (33%). While this is a narrow difference, there are signs that Gen Z are very willing to make the most of their local charity shops. Searching TikTok for videos tagged #thrifting reveals that the topic has gathered 4.6 billion views to date, rising steadily as young people share secrets to upcycling second hand clothes and furniture. And speaking of online audiences…
Third party support for e-commerce is booming
Prior to the pandemic, only about half of charity shops were engaged in e-commerce, though the difficulty faced in maintaining physical stores has forced the hand of many organisations since. Helpfully, there are now many ways for charities to get online that don’t require them to maintain their own websites. Some have turned to eBay to sell their stock, with British Heart Foundation listing thousands of items per year, with the benefit of the site’s auction style meaning that they can organically find price-points for certain items without the need for in-depth appraisal. Meanwhile, Thrift+ is an online-only store which allows users to donate their second-hand clothing and specify a charity to benefit from the sale, creating a hyper-ethical alternative to simply donating clothes on Freecycle or Facebook marketplace.
Prioritising ethics and eco-friendliness works
Our respondents were eight times more likely to think that charity shops are a more ethical alternative that high-street retailers, and it’s not hard to see why. Whether it’s saving 90% of donations from landfill, or preventing 21 kilograms of CO2 from entering the atmosphere per kilogram of clothing sold, the ecological benefits of second-hand clothing are hard to refute. With our April data showing that Gen Z are more likely to prioritise climate change as a cause of concern than both Millennials and Gen Xers, charity shops might do well to highlight the environmental benefits they deliver if they wish to continue capturing this audience.
If you’re interested to know more about our sector data, please consider signing up for our Charity Awareness Monitor. You can download more information below.