Despite a surge in donations in times of pandemic, Oxfam and Barnardo report a drop in income.

The UK’s charity shops are experiencing a decline in sales of up to one-third despite having bumper stock levels and offering huge savings. This is despite having seen a spike in donations after homes were “decluttered” during lockdown.

Oxfam, with 595 shops, stated that the money coming through its doors is down 32% on an like-for-like basis to last year. British Heart Foundation (BHF), with around 740 shops, reported that income is down by 20%. Cancer Research UK and Barnardo’s also report similar declines.

Charities that rely on shops to generate a large portion of their income have been devastated by the lockdown. BHF claimed that it suffered a loss in sales of around PS60m during the lockdown, while Barnardo’s stated: “We are projecting a loss in shop income of PS30m for this year.” Oxfam spent PS5m per month just keeping the shops closed and paying landlords.

Despite their modest appearance, Britain’s charity shops are huge businesses. BHF has 3,500 employees, many of whom were furloughed during lockdown, but are now back in work, and 18,000 volunteers. Oxfam employs around 1,000 people and has 22,000 volunteers. Cancer Research has 1,900 paid staff members and 11,000 volunteers.

Some volunteers have had to avoid constant contact with the public, which has made it difficult for them to reopen. Oxfam stated that the volunteer count has fallen by 40%, and many volunteers are feeling uneasy or unable return. We urgently need more volunteers and have started a recruitment campaign to include volunteers who are able to work remotely.

selective focus photography of hanged clothes

Some shops have been overwhelmed by a flood of donations. Bags of clothing and other items must be left in stores for between 48 and 72 hours to avoid spreading the virus. Once they are steam cleaned and dried, they can then be taken home. The changing rooms are still closed.

A spokesperson for Oxfam said, “Please ring before bringing,” “Decluttering was the story of the lockdown. We have to keep the donated items separate for 48 hours and can quickly run out space. Unlike other retail businesses, where staff are usually “front-of house” with stock delivery and just-in time stock delivery, charity shops often have volunteers do the sorting, pricing, and tagging of clothing.”

Cancer Research UK stated that although it experienced a 31% increase in donations right after the lockdown ended, “we are now following last year’s donations and are absolutely happy for donations, particularly autumn and winter clothes”.

The lockdown halted the online operations of major chains, but they are expanding quickly with more customers choosing to shop remotely. BHF claims it has the largest online charity shop, with 21,000 square feet of warehouse space in Leeds. It operates over the eBay auction platform with thousands of items for sale, including antique Singer sewing machines, 4k Ultra HD 49 inch TVs at PS150, and home exercise bikes at PS15.

Celebrity donations are a big seller. BHF is currently selling items donated from Rod Stewart and Penny Lancaster (bids of PS19 as of writing), and signed albums (around PS50-60).

The online Oxfam operation, which includes items from Oxfam, has seen sales almost double that of last year. Many of the items are brand new and unopened.

Cancer Research has launched an online sales campaign to target younger buyers.

Through an eBay-led initiative called “The Big Charity Sell”, charities are trying to get new donations. This allows homeowners to sell unwanted items on eBay, and give 100% to charity of their choosing.

Some chains’ opening hours have been cut due to extra coronavirus cleaning. BHF states that its stores now open from 10-4pm rather than 9-5pm. Sunday hours are also being cut, but it plans to restore the original hours soon.

The traditional charity shop is typically a small suburban business that has been abandoned by an unsuccessful business. However, some charities have opened out-of-town stores or furniture outlets.

Mike Taylor, BHF commercial director, says that there are 200 furniture shops. Our largest is 17,000 square feet. The average charity shop is 600 sq.ft. We will sell approximately 250,000 donated furniture pieces, with sofas and tables priced at PS100 or PS120 and dining tables at PS20. There is a growing interest and value in sustainability and recycling.

Cancer Research plans to open 18 superstores in retail centers in the coming years.

Despite the drop in sales this year, none the charities shops we spoke to said they planned to close stores. Most of them admitted that recessions are good for their business.

Charity shops are generally better off in recessions. A spokeswoman from Oxfam said that people know they can find great quality and value.

“If you look at past recessions, you’ll see that the demand for second-hand or pre-loved goods increases.” According to Cancer Research UK, you generally see higher sales levels when the economy is struggling.

Some charity shop owners believe there may be an upside to the current retail environment. They privately acknowledge that the collapse in many high street chains will give charity shops a greater choice of locations to set up shop.

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