Tuesday 8 September 2015

Oxfam Confronts The Charity Shop Dilemma

An interesting knock-on effect of the boom in fast fashion has been the hit that charity shops have taken. Clothes from shops like Primark are simply not fit for purpose after a few washes, which means those items are going straight in the bin instead of the recycle hopper. Added to that, people are buying fewer new clothes in general, and therefore hanging onto stuff that they would normally donate. Added to that, conflict in the Ukraine, traditionally a big market in second-hand and donated clothing, has seen a significant drop in demand and a glut of material in the marketplace.
The end result? Charity chains like Oxfam have seen a 3% slide in sales. And that's a problem for a business that has over 700 stores nationwide. What sort of a message does it send when even the charity shops start closing?
The problem for retailers in general is that we consumers have become much more savvy over the past couple of decades. The massive growth in online shopping has largely passed the charity market by–how do you cost-effectively market an individual donation? Meanwhile, the boom in discount stores like Aldi and Lidl, that can offer supermarket quality at pound-shop prices (including clothing), means that the traditional charity shop model has to change to survive.
Oxfam are now trailing discount stores in six locations, setting out its mix of donated fashion and homewares as well as its range of Fairtrade goods at cheap block prices–£1, £2 and £3. By getting people through the door, the idea is that they'll be enticed by the quality on offer and add Oxfam to their usual shopping mix.
It's not all bad news for Oxfam, of course. Their specialist Book And Music stores are havens for the specialist market, gathering rare vinyl and collectable literature in welcomingly inviting spaces. And although donations fell, public fundraising was up by 2.5%. An interesting response to those who feel charities are too invasive. In all, the charity's income actually rose by £12m last year.
Oxfam are at the leading edge of charity retail, and it'll be fascinating to see if other brands respond to the challenge. The tired notion of a shabby, unwelcoming charity shop as the last resort of the desperate is falling away, as smart shoppers see the benefits in buying pre-loved wares. There's a change in attitudes, to which the sector should respond imaginatively.

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