Charity shops provide a lifeline on the high street in bleak financial times

The British Retail Consortium
warning last week that consumer confidence remains low, based on their retail
sales figures for July, will be no surprise to those on the high street.
Interestingly, charity shops continue to buck the trend.

I often hear stories from
our members of people relying on charity shops for basic necessities at times
when money is tight. This is ever more apparent as people feel less confident –
or are less able – to spend. In one recent case, one of our customers who had
been out of work for several months was able to get that all important suit for
his job interview at a fraction of the price it would cost him to buy it new.
For someone on out of work benefits, charity shops can provide a real lifeline
in difficult financial times.

New research shows that
nearly 60 per cent of people identified lower prices as a major reason for shopping in
charity shops, making it the top factor. This was particularly important for
those working in unskilled and manual jobs, and those who were unemployed. People
are also increasingly aware of the hard times others are facing. Half of people
donating to charity shops do so because they want to help other people that
can’t afford to buy new items, making it the biggest reason for donating.

On top of this there were
a range of reasons indicating that people are thinking more carefully about
where they want to spend their money. Charity shops provide an alternative to
cut price high street retailers because of their emphasis on recycling and
reuse, and a third of shoppers said that environmental reasons were a major
influence in both shopping in charity shops and donating to them. People also
said that they found the shopping experience positive and they enjoyed finding
unique items on sale that couldn’t be found on the commercial high street.

We all hope for the next
set of figures to show an improvement in consumer confidence. In the meantime,
however, this research demonstrates that charity shops continue to provide a
vital service to people on our high streets up and down the country. As real
incomes continue to fall, they offer the only opportunity for many people to
buy high quality goods without spending a fortune.

Warren Alexander is the
Chief Executive of the Charity Retail Association.