The roller coaster of reopening charity shops – what we know so far


The last few months have been a huge challenge for charity retailers, and not only because of the heartache and loss of income that closing shops created. The enormous job of planning reopening – on shifting sands as guidance changed daily – has been a gargantuan effort by the whole sector. Now that we are here and reopening is happening we thought we’d take a moment to share some of the early findings from charity retailers we’ve been speaking with across the UK.

It’s good to be back

Hooray! The high street, customers, donors and lots of staff and volunteers are delighted to see shops trading again. Overall, the first few days and weeks are looking positive as everyone settles into the new normal.  Sales have been reported to be really buoyant and in lots of cases up on this time last year which is great news

Pic: Highland Hospice, Beauly Shop

Stock is abundant – but not necessarily brilliant

As predicted, the nation’s lockdown clear outs have produced unprecedented amounts of stock, all arriving in a short space of time. Many charities have been inventive, intelligent and innovative in how deal with this anticipated wave of donations. Timed collections and deliveries, drive-through drop offs, pre-opening donation days, videos, social media, press and TV have all been used to manage the influx really well.

As with all donations, not all of it is saleable – quality has been reported to be lower than average, so sorting – including a 72 hour quarantine period – is having to be carefully managed. Additionally, rag merchants aren’t fully up and running yet, so disposing of unwanted/unsaleable stock is proving a challenge. Some charities are selling their own waste textiles online in bundles, others have their own rag processing systems, some are storing it until the price rises and the wheels are fully turning again before selling it on.

Pic: St Barnabas Hospice, Lincolnshire, Donation Drive-Thru,

Collections are possible

Many charities, especially those who rely heavily on furniture, have managed to get their collection services up and running again. Drivers and their mates have used cab dividers, masks, visors, hand sanitiser, gloves and other PPE. Donors are asked to bring their item out of the house where possible, but if this can’t happen, they are asked to wait in another room whilst the goods are collected. Early reports are that furniture sales are going well.

Customers are complying with the rules – mostly!

Overwhelmingly, charities are telling us that their customers are patient, kind and accepting of the new rules. Many shops have hand sanitiser by the door and most customers are using this as they enter and leave the shop, meaning items touched as they browse aren’t being contaminated.  Social distancing is something we are used to now and customers are happy to oblige.

Most charities have closed their changing rooms and are backing this up with a robust refund policy so customers can buy with confidence. This hasn’t stopped some people trying goods on in the shops though – despite signs asking them not to, so this is something to watch out for.

Volunteers are nervous about returning

By far the biggest issue we have been told about is a shortage of volunteers. Whilst some volunteers can’t wait to get back to work, many are simply too nervous to return, worried about infection and adjusting to being back out in the big wide world after such a long time.

There are many ways charities are trying to help with this:

  • Inviting volunteers to come and see the shop before it reopens, to help them see the measures in place to help keep them safe;
  • Keeping in touch via phone and social media, sharing positive stories, sometimes from other fellow volunteers, to help build confidence and remove the unknown;
  • Opening shops in phased way and allowing space at the start and end of each day to replenish and clean down without customers around;
  • Recruiting new volunteers from a variety of sources – including some of the brilliant schemes the Charity Retail Association has set up for its members;
  • Fast-tracking new volunteers and accepting offers of help for limited time periods, rather than asking for a long term commitment.

Some shops won’t make it

Sadly, some shops won’t reopen. We know of several charities who have taken the tough decision to close one or more of their shops permanently. This is mainly where they simply can’t make a profit with social distancing guidelines in place – often small shops where not enough customers or volunteers can come in at once to make it work. This is heart breaking for all involved – especially as we know that charity shops are so much more than “just a shop”. Many directly offer their charities’ services, by providing volunteering opportunities or drop in sessions for their service users, or signposting help, advice and support. These closures will impact on the vulnerable in our society at a time when they so desperately need help and support.

Online is growing

Inevitably, many charities have taken the opportunity to focus on growing their online operations. Some continued to trade online throughout lockdown, others chose to pause and some hadn’t got going yet – but undoubtedly there will be a big focus on selling online as we move forwards. As the best entry point for online selling, eBay have generously offered free training for charities either starting up or growing their eBay operation, so do make sure you sign up.

Charity shops are here to stay

Despite all that has been thrown (sometimes literally!) at the sector, charity shops are bouncing back once again. Having ridden the storms of recession and being blamed for the decline of the high street over the past decade, we know that our beloved charity shops are here to stay. As we said at the beginning of all this, our wonderful sector is still proving itself to be thoughtful, resourceful, creative and resilient – saving the planet, raising millions of pounds for  huge range of causes and keeping the high street buzzing. You just can’t keep a good charity shop down.

Welcome back everyone – we missed you.

Pic: Marie Curie Community Hub, Bristol

Title pic: Oxfam, Harborne

The Charity Retail Consultancy are charity retail experts and can help you with all aspects of your reopening and beyond.

To learn more or to arrange an informal chat, contact us at hello@thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk  or visit our website

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