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The Statistics page - the section on charity shops.
The List of organisations and resources page :
Some of the benefits of charity shops in the UK :
See the website of the Charity Retail Association (CRA) for a wealth of information on charity shops, including a searchable database of over 90% of the charity shops in the UK.
The prices listed below are typical of charity shops in SE England.
The figures are only a rough guide.
Expect to pay less or more for an item, depending on factors such as :
See the Statistics page for an estimate of the average price of second-hand goods in charity shops compared with their new price (as a % percentage).
In extreme cases, items are sold for as much as 75% of their new price - for example something bought only a few months before, and still sealed and unopened - such as an unwanted present.
Some charity shops sell their goods at below-average prices in order to increase flow/turnover, especially if they're short of space.
Most charity shops mark the prices on the goods (or on a notice nearby) - especially the large chains like Oxfam.
Where shops don't display prices, it saves them time (and labels) - but this can lead to problems :
Often they'll collect furniture from donors (free).
If you buy any furniture, most charity shops will deliver. There's normally a fee for this - typically about £10-£15, within a specified radius (10 miles or so).
Fire safety - Older upholstered furniture (sofas, beds etc) can be a problem for charity shops. There are government Regulations forbidding sale of old furniture whose upholstery doesn't comply with modern fire-resistant/retardant standards. The furniture has to be scrapped. Furniture less than 20 years old or so should be OK though.
Examples: TVs, microwaves, table lamps, hair driers, irons, vacuum cleaners, fax machines, computers.
When these items are sold second-hand, government Regulations now require that they're tested for safety before being put on sale. This has to be done by a suitably skilled person and needs special equipment. The testing includes checking the wiring of plugs, earthing and any damage to cables.
Accordingly most charity shops won't accept donations of any mains electrical equipment.
Other shops have suitably qualified staff (often volunteers, such as retired electricians) who check out donated electrical goods and weed out (and scrap) any unsafe ones.
Sometimes you'll find cryptic labels on second-hand electrical goods with an item reference number and date. These are added by the charity shop and refer to a log book they keep of all electrical items which they have checked and approved, with an entry for each item - giving reference number, description, date checked and name of examiner. So now you know.
We've visited charity shops which sell hi-fi's, televisions and even white goods like fridges, cookers and washing machines.
This is exempt from the Regulations described above - because there's no risk of electric shock. Examples:
All charity shops can sell donations of these types of equipment, without any testing.
A rough-and-ready rule is, if an electrical item has a mains plug, the item needs to be tested.
See above for general points concerning electrical goods.
Some charity shops accept donations of unwanted computer equipment - computers and peripherals (scanners, printers, routers etc).
With computers, files on the hard drive need to be 'wiped' (rather than just deleted) - to ensure the next owner can't access your confidential data. On the Net, you can find free software to do this.
Also there's the issue of licensing of any software on the machine.
Electronic circuit board
There are a number of specialist charities which take unwanted computer equipment and either :
Some of these organisations refurbish/overhaul the equipment before sale - for example cleaning items, testing, wiping any hard drive of data, and installing a minimum of (legal) software - usually just Windows (or Linux).
Software is an unusual commodity - because with most software (strictly speaking) you're not buying the product, but buying a licence to use it. However, normally it can be re-sold legitimately, so long as it's original (and not a copy).
Software publishers (like Microsoft, Corel, Adobe and Serif) maintain they take their social responsibilities seriously. We trust that they recognise the social benefits of selling their products second-hand in charity shops - so raising revenue for good causes and promoting re-use/recycling.
If you're donating software, try to include as much as possible of the original product - such as discs, manuals/user guides, licensing/registration documents and packaging (if you still have it).
Arrangement - Some charity shops don't put their books in any order. However, many shops organise them, separating fiction from non-fiction (reference etc), and organising non-fiction by subject. We've visited shops which are as well categorised as any public library - with posh labels and signage. One of these days we'll find a shop using Dewey Decimal Classification.
Non-fiction: Categories commonly used include children's books, health, cookery, gardening, DIY, science/technology, computing, business, humour, languages, religion, art, music, history, travel and biography.
Fiction: A number of shops we've visited (eg Oxfam) organise fiction A-Z by author.
Pricing - Some shops use simple methods such as :
These methods minimise the work for the staff - they don't have to decide on a price for each book individually (a time-consuming and skilled job) or to mark each book with a price.
Some shops display a notice stating that all books are (say) 50p "unless otherwise marked". This is a nice method because it allows them to charge more (or less) for certain books.
A few shops put price labels on the spines of books - this means you don't need to lift out each book to find the price.
Bookshops - A number of Oxfam charity shops are bookshops (ie they sell only books). These tend to be in cities, especially where there is a university - such as Oxford.
Some charity shops sell donated magazines such as women's titles, computing, Which?, gardening, cookery, embroidery, National Trust, RHS and Reader's Digest. 1xStatistics:Prices charged for magazines range from 5p to 50p. 25p is typical. However, many shops are reluctant to sell magazines. We'd like to see them stocked more often.
We know of some charity shops (and public libraries) which allow customers to take magazines without charge.
At recycling centres we've been saddened to see hundreds of recent good-quality magazines (in perfect condition) dumped - destined for pulping. Surely people would buy these if they saw them in charity shops?
2xStatistics:Typical hours for high street charity shop chains are :
Smaller chains of charity shops and one-off shops tend to have more restricted hours, such as 10-3.30pm.
A small (but increasing) proportion of charity shops open on Sundays - for example the FARA chain in London. See the Statistics page.
Occasionally a charity shop has to close unexpectedly early (or even doesn't open at all on certain days), because of problems with availability of voluntary staff - sickness etc.
Some shops fill the racks randomly. Most organise them. We've come across two systems :
If you buy second-hand goods in a charity shop, they're usually sold "as seen", so it's your responsibility to check for damage etc. If you return goods, many charity shops will at least give you a credit note - but often not a cash refund. It always helps if you produce the receipt, and return the goods as soon as possible.
If you buy new goods in a charity shop, you have same rights as in normal shop, run for profit. So, if the goods are faulty, you're entitled a cash refund.
When dealing with charity shops, most shoppers tend to be more good-natured on these matters compared with commercially-run shops. After all, the goods are mostly donated, the proceeds all go to the charity, and most of the staff are volunteers.
If you take goods to a charity shop, remember some have restricted opening hours (see above). If they're closed when you get there, we'd advise you not to leave your goods there (in the doorway). They may get stolen before the shop reopens, they can be a fire risk and they can cause security alerts.
Bring them back another day, or see if there's another charity shop open nearby. Why not telephone the shop and check they'll be open before going, to save a wasted journey?
Cleaning - Remember that many charity shops can't sell things if they're in poor condition - dirty, seriously damaged etc. If your unwanted goods are dirty (especially clothes), wash them first before donating them.
Mending - If an item is in good condition apart from (say) a missing button, why not mend it yourself before donating it? It will fetch more money in the shop. In fact some shops reject any donated clothing item with defects - they'll sell it to rag merchants (or scrap it). This may seem fussy, but it can pay off - because their shops will get a reputation for selling consistently good-quality merchandise. Then they sell more and can charge higher prices.
Sometimes you'll find slightly defective goods in charity shops. Most shops adjust the price to reflect this. Some helpfully list the defect on their label, especially if it wouldn't be obvious to a shopper - eg "top button missing", "slight scratch on base" or "three pieces missing" (jigsaw). If you're donating such goods, you'll help the shop if you attach a written note to the item pointing out the defect.
You can clean some non-clothing goods too before donating them - for instance ceramics, glass and plastic items and books.
Many types of donations are just one simple, 'self-sufficient', stand-alone item - such as a watch, a book or a hat.
However, a lot of donations consist of two or more related items - a "kit". If they become separated, they're less useful - or even utterly useless. For example this applies to :
If you're donating things like this :
Firstly - make sure you give all the items to the shop (in one go).
Secondly - think ahead - try to ensure they'll be kept together in the shop.
It helps if you put them together in a box, transparent polythene 'zip' bag or similar.
With shoes you can tie the laces together.
With (say) a computer scanner you can put labels on each component explaining and cross-referencing - such as:
"Scanner: 3 pieces - (1) scanner unit (2) 24V power adaptor (3) CD-ROM"
Anecdote: After writing this section, we're off to the local charity shop to return a nice-looking (but useless) 17" flatscreen Acer monitor - for a refund. Once we'd got it home we realised it was unusual - it doesn't have a "BASEC" 230-Volt mains power socket - it needs a matching Acer
See the page contents list at the top of the page for sections on donating specific types of second-hand goods - eg furniture, electrical goods, computers.
Increasingly, charity shops are selling new goods as well as second-hand donations. The new goods are bought in. They're often ethically produced fair-trade products (tea, coffee, chocolate, craft items etc), produced in developing countries - such as those sold in Oxfam's shops. Greetings cards are stocked by many charity shops. See the page on Charity cards.
The three figures are :
See the Statistics page for facts and figures on charity shops - eg number of shops, turnover, costs, profits.
Inevitably, part of the turnover of charity shops gets absorbed by costs - such as rent, insurance, maintenance, decorating, shopfitting, heating, lighting, cash tills, carrier bags.
As to staff costs, most of the staff in charity shops are volunteers. Some shops refund volunteers' expenses - eg travel.
Over the last few years, there's been a trend to use some paid staff - eg the shop manager. Although this adds to costs, the idea is that it more than pays for itself by improving organisation, continuity, window displays etc.
Charity shops get certain tax concessions - eg in respect of VAT and non-domestic rates.
We feel the turnover figures could be increased by over 10% if bogus and poor-value house-to-house charity collections were eliminated, and the goods went to charity shops instead. Please see Our aims page for more on the principles. This doesn't involve asking people to donate more goods - it just means making sure that all of the goods go to charity shops rather than being swallowed up by bogus and poor-value collections. It's analogous to water companies dealing with leaking mains pipes, so saving water.
For example, see the page: Charity shops versus house-to-house collections.
A second way of increasing the turnover of charity shops is by encouraging more people to donate goods per se, rather than throwing them away (eg to landfill) or sending them for materials recycling (rather than re-use).
A third way of increasing the turnover is by encouraging more people to buy second-hand goods from charity shops - in other words by increasing the demand.
We were shocked by the TV advertisements for a furniture superstore chain a while back, which showed unwanted household items (in saleable condition) being thrown out of first-floor windows into rubbish skips in the street. OK, so it was done for dramatic effect, but it still seemed irresponsible.
Conversely we praise BBC2's programme on clearing out your junk called The Life Laundry, for encouraging people to give their unwanted goods to charity shops.
Gift aid - Some charity shops (such as Sue Ryder and Oxfam) apply gift aid to donations of goods. People donating goods are invited to sign a declaration showing they are taxpayers, and the charity is able to claim back tax on their behalf (in a similar way to cash donations). This increases the value of your donation by 25%.
Their website includes an excellent database of over 7,000 charity shops in the UK, searchable by town or postcode.
See our page on the Charity Retail Association. CRA logo (our thanks to the Association) :
Website : www.icsa.ie
The Association covers the Republic of Ireland. The introduction on their homepage states (at October 2009) :
"We are a membership organisation that supports charities that run shops in Ireland as part of their fundraising activities. All our members have CHY registration with the Revenue Commissioners.
Members range from large national charities to smaller locally based ones and currently our members operate over 200 shops throughout Ireland."
Their website has a database of Irish charity shops.
There's a useful cautionary page on door-to-door clothing collections :
Scambusters: There's an excellent page on this school education project :
" Stella Maris students in Waterford
Stella Maris students for their YSI project chose to highlight the problem of bogus charity collectors in an enterprising and colourful way "
You can download a 7-page report on the Scambusters project and a 2-page leaflet. It offers a commendable model of how the issue can be tackled in an inspired way by schools and colleges.