A charity shop, thrift shop, thrift store, hospice shop (U.S., Canada), resale shop (when not meaning consignment shop U.S.) or op shop (Australia/N.Z.) (from "opportunity shop") is a retail establishment run by a charitable organization to raise money.
Charity shops are a type of social enterprise. They usually sell mainly used goods donated by members of the public, and are often staffed by volunteers. Because the items for sale were obtained for free, and business costs are low, the items can be sold at competitive prices. After costs are paid, all remaining income from the sales is used in accord with the organization's stated charitable purpose. Costs include purchase and/or depreciation of fixtures (clothing racks, bookshelves, counters, etc.), operating costs (maintenance, municipal service fees, electricity, telephone, limited advertising) and the building lease or mortgage.
One of the earliest charity shops was set up by the Wolverhampton Society for the Blind (now called the Beacon Centre for the Blind) in 1899 to sell goods made by blind people to raise money for the Society. During World War I, various fund-raising activities occurred, such as a bazaar in Shepherd Market, London, which made £50,000 for the Red Cross.
However, it was during the Second World War that the charity shop became widespread. The Red Cross opened up its first charity shop at 17 Old Bond Street, London in 1941. For the duration of the war, over two hundred “permanent” Red Cross gift shops and about 150 temporary Red Cross shops were opened. A condition of the shop licence issued by the Board of Trade was that all goods offered for sale were gifts. Purchase for re-sale was forbidden. The entire proceeds from sales had to be passed to the Duke of Gloucester’s Red Cross or the St John Fund. Most premises were lent free of rent and in some cases owners also met the costs of heating and lighting.
Popularity of charity shops
Environmentalists may prefer buying second-hand goods as this uses fewer natural resources and would usually do less damage to the environment than by buying new goods would, in part because the goods are usually collected locally. In addition, reusing second-hand items is a form of recycling, and thus reduces the amount of waste going to landfill sites.
Second-hand goods are considered to be quite safe. The South Australian Public Health Directorate says that the health risk of buying used clothing is very low. It explains that washing purchased items in hot water is just one of several ways to eliminate the risk of contracting infectious diseases.
New goods sold at charity shops
Some charity shops, such as the British Heart Foundation, also sell a range of new goods which may be branded to the charity, or have some connection with the cause the charity supports. Oxfam stores, for example, sell fair trade food and crafts. Other stores may sell new Halloween supplies and decorations where old vintage clothes are popular for use as costumes. Some stores specialise in selling books, music, or bridalwear. Charity shops may receive overstock or obsolete goods from local for-profit businesses; the for-profit businesses benefit by taking a tax write-off and clearing unwanted goods from their store instead of throwing the goods out, which is costly.
Oxfam has the largest number of charity shops in the UK with over 700 stores. Many Oxfam shops also sell books, and the organization now operates over 70 specialist Oxfam Bookshops, making them the largest retailer of second-hand books in the United Kingdom. Other Oxfam affiliates also have stores, such as Jersey, Germany, Ireland (45 shops in NI/ROI), the Netherlands and Hong Kong.
Other charities with a strong presence on high streets in the UK include YMCA, British Heart Foundation, Barnardos, Cancer Research UK, Shelter, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, Age UK (formerly Age Concern and Help the Aged), Marie Curie Cancer Care, Norwood, Save the Children, Scope, PDSA, Naomi House Children's Hospice and Sue Ryder Care. Many local hospices also operate charity shops to raise funds.
There are over 9,000 charity shops in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Their locations can be found on the Charity Retail Association (CRA) website, along with information on charity retail, what shops can and can't accept, etc. The CRA is a member organisation for charities which run shops.
British charity shops are mainly staffed by unpaid volunteers, with a paid shop manager. Goods for sale are predominantly from donations - 87% according to the official estimate. Donations should be taken directly to a charity shop during opening hours, as goods left on the street may be stolen or damaged by passers-by or inclement weather. In expensive areas, donations include a proportion of good quality designer clothing and charity shops in these areas are sought out for cut-price fashions.
'Standard' charity shops sell a mix of clothing, books, toys, videos, DVDs, music (like CDs, cassette tapes and vinyl) and bric-a-brac (like cutlery and ornaments). Some shops specialise in certain areas, like vintage clothing, furniture, electrical items, or records.
Almost all charity shops sell on their unsold textiles (i.e. unfashionable, stained or damaged fabric) to textile processors. Each charity shop saves an average or 40 tonnes of textiles every year, by selling them in the shop, or passing them on to these textile merchants for recycling or reuse. This grosses to around 363,000 tonnes across all charity shops in the UK; based on 2010 landfill tax value at £48 per tonne, the value of textiles reused or passed for recycling by charity shops in terms of savings in landfill tax is £17,424,000 p.a.
Gift Aid is a UK tax incentive for individual donors where, subject to a signed declaration being held by the charity, income tax paid on donations can be reclaimed by the charity. Although initially intended only for cash donations, the scheme now (since 2006) allows tax on the income earned by charity shops acting as agent for the donor to be reclaimed. Sue Ryder Care was the first to 'Gift Aid' its donations with a pioneering new system developed with Eproductive Ltd.
Charity shops in the UK get mandatory 80% relief on business rates on their premises, which is funded by central government (not by local ratepayers) and is one illustration of their support for the charity sector and the role of charity shops in raising funds for charities. Charities can apply for discretionary relief on the remaining 20%, which is an occasional source of criticism from retailers which have to pay in full.
In Australia, major national opportunity shop chains include the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store (trading as Vinnies), the Salvation Army (trading as Salvos), the Red Cross, MS Australia, and the Brotherhood of St. Laurence. Many local charitable organisations, both religious and secular, run opportunity shops. Common among these are missions and animal shelters.
United States and Canada
In the United States, major national thrift shop operators include Arc Thrift Stores, Goodwill Industries, Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Stores, ReStore (specializing in items commonly found in hardware stores; see Habitat for Humanity), and Value Village (see Savers). Regional operators include Deseret Industries in the Western United States, and those run by Bethesda Lutheran Communities in the Upper Midwest. Many local charitable organizations, both religious and secular, operate thrift shops. Common among these are missions, children's homes, homeless shelters, and animal shelters. In addition, some charity shops are operated by churches, and are fundraising venues that support activities including, in some cases, missionary activities in other countries. Several U.S. stores are for-profit, with the charity that collected the goods making money from the wholesale of those items to the store.
In July 2009, a U.S. government report revealed that several lenders were judging their customers' financial status based on where they shopped, and were assuming that those who shopped at thrift stores and other low-cost retailers were struggling financially. In response, the lenders were increasing interest rates, lowering their credit limit, or even damaging their overall credit score, which may have caused other credit issuers to further harm the shopper by taking similar actions (universal default), or denying credit applications altogether. Laws were passed by Congress in 2009 to stop issuers from these practices.
Thrift stores are generally owned by a charity but run as an independent business under contract: they are licensed by the charity, which provides the merchandise for sale, and benefits by the sale of these goods directly to the contractor who operates the shop. The shop may then make a profit from this arrangement. In some cases, e.g. 'Savers' and 'Value Village' they pay a small percentage of the profit to the charity. Charities in the US are supported by tax legislation (see 501(c)(3)) but this does not extend to the 'for profit' thrift shop. Unlike directly charity-run shops run by volunteers, thrift shops pay taxes, and must under their contract have employees with proper contracts of employment.
In many countries around the world, not just exclusively in the Third World, second-hand clothing that is initially donated, are resold and is considered a commodity throughout the world. Some countries forbid it as it harms the local textile industry, as it is in the case in the Philippines. In other cases countries increase tariffs to reduce imports. Some countries ban the sale of second-hand clothing because unwashed used clothing is seen as a potential threat of spreading disease. The author of an article, Karen Transberg Hansen, suggested that in Zambia, however, salaula, or the selling of second-hand clothing actually helps the local economy in generating income. Hansen said the trade provided more jobs (handling, cleaning, repairing, and restyling). It has also provided governments with revenue from tariffs.
- "Thrift Store or Treasure Trove–You Decide".
- "Second-hand goods: A guide for consumers" (PDF). Public and Environmental Health Service website. Department of Health, Government of South Australia. October 2008. Retrieved 16 July 2010. "As the risk to health associated with second-hand goods is very low, thorough and hygienic cleaning is all that is required to eliminate the risk of contracting infectious diseases. ... Washing second-hand clothing and bedding in hot water (hotter than 60°C) and detergent kills these disease-causing organisms. Items that cannot be washed ..."
- Charity Retail Association FAQ
- Charity Retail Association FAQ
- Charity Retail Association Reuse FAQ
- HMRC Gift Aid
- Charity Retail Association FAQ
- Call to cut charity shops in town
- "Report: Where You Shop Matters", WITN
- "Credit card companies accused of penalizing the thrifty", WOAI
- "Store purchases could punish credit holders", WMBF
- Hansen, Karen Tranberg. 2004. Helping or hindering? Controversies around the international second-hand clothing trade. Anthropology Today 20 (4):3-9.
- Australian Op Shop Classified Listing
- Australian OpShop Listing
- Charity Retail Association (UK)
- Thrift Shops (US)