It’s all over the news today. Oxfam is reeling from the results of the long awaited Charity Commission’s investigation. The report demands a continued global expectation of improved safeguarding and that any allegations of child sexual abuse are more thoroughly investigated. Oxfam says it is changing and working better to improve the people it serves. Here at the Charity Retail Consultancy we are saddened by what has happened in Oxfam’s name, and we stand by those who are bringing about the changes in behaviours and expectations of all stakeholders.
In the UK we expect our charities to be exemplary at all times, and when they’re not, we are quick to criticise and even to withdraw support. We’re feeling solidarity with all charity workers today, and especially (because we know this particular sector well) to the shop workers.
Blimey, it’s tough in retail. When all around you the high street is struggling and the pressure to generate more income is ever increasing, the last thing you need is even more regulations. But the Charity Commission’s Oxfam report will undoubtedly place greater expectations on UK charity shop staff to improve safeguarding and controls. Whether it’s more DBS checks, enhanced safeguarding training, changes to induction training or to the types of volunteers a charity shop can welcome, the outcome is that there will be a greater emphasis on controls and procedures.
We totally agree that all of this is essential to protect the charities’ people. Bring it on. But spare a thought for the hard working and relatively lowly paid shop manager who has to introduce and manage all of this, on top of everything else they have to do to run a charity shop. So how do we ensure it happens and is done well and in the positive spirit it is intended? It’s about providing real support for the teambut maybe it’s worth taking another look at income targets. To retain and to continue to motivate our best people, charity retailers might need to expect less in the tills. Reducing the income budget, by say 5%, to reflect the additional workload that any enhanced checks and new styles of local leadership will generate might be a sensible way forwards. If a charity’s people are supported and protected, it can deliver a realistic budget in the face of increasing challenges, and it will continue to inspire, give hope and build trust.
Charities have the potential to build communities and improve everyone’s way of life like no other sector. Let’s remember that and do this properly.
The Charity Retail Consultancy can support your charity through change and to secure improvements. Visit our website for more information or get in touch via email:
My journey in the world of charity retail began with volunteering for St Luke’s Hospice, Sheffield in their very first shop. It was 1983, I was 16 and I spent my Saturday mornings sorting clothes and learning about retail. Fast forward a few years and having got my Retail Marketing degree I decided commercial retail was not for me and volunteered at my local Oxfam shop. I learned so much there about people management, merchandising, customer service, how to be part of a team. That role set me off into a now 30 year career in the sector – and in that cyclical way life has sometimes, I’m now volunteering for Oxfam again – in rural Scotland this time, where I’ve just relocated.
I am loving it. I’ve met new friends and neighbours; learned where my bus goes from and to in order to get there (‘local’ in these parts equates to 20 miles away); been taught the till by another brilliant volunteer; been trusted to remerchandise the accessories department on my second week; been thanked by the Oxfam GB team via Twitter as well as by the lovely shop manager. I left my shift there this week with a big grin on my face, feeling good about myself and much more integrated into my new community.
All this has reminded me once again, how vital volunteers are for our sector – and how by giving them a great volunteering experience, they can be the best ambassadors for our charities AND feel fabulous about themselves too. It is easy as charity retail leaders for us to feel frustrated by not having enough volunteers, or worried about safeguarding, or caught up in the nitty gritty of our daily work – but by genuinely holding volunteers and the wonderful array of skills, stories and experience they bring to our organisations at the very centre of everything we do, we can harness amazing benefits.
Every volunteer journey begins before the potential volunteer identifies themselves to us. Everything we do needs to demonstrate how we value and support those who help us. Once the initial contact is made – either because we have proactively gone out and recruited, or the volunteer has taken the initiative unprompted by us – we need to ensure we give them the best experience possible, by listening, supporting, being clear with our expectations and abundant with our gratitude and praise. Every person who volunteers brings with them a lifetime of experiences – however long or short at that stage – and it is up to us as leaders to make the most of that amazing gift.
I believe my life is richer for having spent so much of it around volunteers – and about to be even richer for being one again. What a privilege it is for us to be part of this sector – let’s all remember how much the volunteers we know and those we are yet to meet make it that way, and make sure we give them the volunteering experience they desire and deserve.
The Charity Retail Consultancy can support you in ensuring your volunteers have the best journey possible. We offer training and support to charity retailers in volunteer recruitment, induction, development & reward. A recent charity retail volunteer recruitment and retention training day scored 93% from delegates’ feedback. Visit our website for more information or to get in touch email:
Future proofing your charity retail operation
I’ve been working with and talking to many charities with retail operations recently, and there’s quite a list of challenges they’re facing. These include:
- Falling profits
- Rising costs
- A slump on the high street
- Customers’ falling disposable income
- Post-Brexit drop in confidence
But it’s not all doom and gloom – In 2025 brick-and-mortar stores are still projected to deliver 85% of UK sales. But if you want to ensure that your charity is still generating a strong profit and profile from its high street presence, you must think differently. If you can adapt to the changing environment, this can be a very exciting moment in retail history. Here’s my 5 tips to stay ahead of the curve in charity retail:
- Online development
There’s no denying that if you’re going to stay ahead of the pack, you need a strong digital presence. A strong digital presence enhances the traditional shop experience, and vice versa. Look at Cancer Research UK – all shops are encouraged to have a social media presence. And about half of Oxfam’s 620 stores sell clothes online. As a result, these sales were up 33% at Christmas and it hopes to double its online sales to reach 5% of the business in just 3 years.
2. In store experience
Even the online giant Amazon is opening bricks and mortar stores because they know that a unique store experience gives shoppers a compelling reason to engage with and revisit the brand. John Lewis has a Customer Experience director and Waitrose is hosting yoga classes in some of its stores. It’s essential that charity retailers design and use the sales areas for experiences as well as for displaying products. Build stories not just stores!
Charities have some incredible brands and identities, so get these into your sales areas and bring the shopping experience to life. Martin House Children’s Hospice has done this brilliantly by adding the artwork used in the hospice onto the shop walls. Customers love the stronger association and will be increasingly buying into a brand as well as just purchasing a product.
3. Personalisation and the Retail Revolution
Three-quarters of customers want personalized shopping experiences as a more personalised experience makes customers feel good and keeps them coming back. Some commercial retailers use data-driven insights from customers’ purchases to deliver bespoke and unique customer experiences. Click2Fit is an American online fashion retailer that uses thousands of rules developed by personal shoppers to select each customer’s perfect items. After a few minutes creating a profile, the virtual personal shopper picks out clothing to fit and flatter you from styles that suit your lifestyle and budget.
The Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence are creating a Retail Revolution to support this further. This might involve robots picking and packing to reduce customer costs, automated till points to speed up shopping (debatable!) or door counters that connect and predict footfall to your phone along with weather apps to decide the number of staff needed to give customers the best service.
4. Environmental impact
Charity retailers reuse or recycle 95% of items donated to their shops, making the sector the greenest on the High Street. But this is not a well-known fact. In recent weeks, the grocer Iceland captured media headlines by declaring it will be the first UK retailer to abolish plastic packaging, and Wagamama announced it is ditching plastic straws. Charity retailers must seize the moment and start making the headlines – come on, who’s going to be the first to abolish plastic carrier bags?
5. Community: Growing loyalty
Retailers know that they must nurture customer loyalty and inject heart and soul into their business. Sonos studios in London is doing this by creating “a unique, acoustically tunable space where anyone can go to hear music as it should sound; where artists can experiment and share new ideas; a connecting point for a global network of musicians and makers.” It’s not a shop and you can’t buy Sonos products. It’s all about developing the brand’s relationship with its customers. When I developed the youth-led charity retail brand Goodstock, we knew it needed a unique identity and had to directly appeal to its customer base, so we added events and experiences such as a popup nail bar, stylists, a DJ spot, youth markets and a yoga class –hey Waitrose, charity retail got there first!
Two weeks ago I presented a plenary session to the Hospice UK retail conference on youth volunteering. Statistics recently released show that only 13% of the volunteers are under 25, lower than it was five years ago. But according to the BBC, there’s been a 52% increase in youth volunteering in that time. So why are young people choosing not to volunteer in charity shops?
Working with a youth charity, we commissioned some research into why young people don’t volunteer in charity shops and we had some interesting responses. A key one was that it’s not cool to shop or volunteer in a charity shop – the look and feel of the shop, the stock and the people don’t reflect young people and the shops they prefer. This is connected to a fear of rejection – some young people don’t feel they will be welcomed or accepted. On top of this, they may feel they can’t commit the hours the shop might want them to work, and they think they won’t get anything back, such as formal recognition for their work.
So how do we change this?
- Firstly, you need to create roles that young people will be interested in, such as visual merchandising volunteer, events planner and social media champion.
- Make sure you reflect young people in your publications, newsletters and any imagery in volunteer materials.
- Start holding joining and exit interviews to find out why young people come and go so you can identify ways to improve recruitment and retention.
- Think about where you advertise volunteer vacancies. Do you use colleges and universities, and social media?
- If you don’t offer training for your shop managers on equality and diversity, then start doing this now. All of your team need to understand why it’s important to recruit and retain volunteers from diverse backgrounds, so it’s essential they value young volunteers as much as you do.
- Get involved in youth volunteering campaigns – join in BBC Radio 1’s pledge to get young people volunteering 1 million hours http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0387cft
And why should you do all of this? Young people will safeguard your charity’s future, they have a vast amount to give – time and skills, they’re experts in new technology, video creation, social media, they bring a fresh and youthful dynamic to your shop and like attracts like – they bring more young volunteers, young customers and young donors to further increase the reach and value of your charity.
I’ll quote you from every woman.com’s account of this year’s everywoman in Retail Awards: ‘The evening ended in a standing ovation for Woman of the Year Award winner Jayne Cartwright of Save the Children UK. As they heard Jayne’s story in more detail, the audience were moved to rise from their chairs and toast their glasses to a woman who has made a phenomenal impact on the charity retail sector, creating a whole new landscape for the industry.’ to read more click here.
Jayne Cartwright inspires audiences locally and nationally, here, Jayne was addressing the audience when she won ‘Woman of the Year Award’.
Jayne championed the opportunity to work with Mary Portas, and project managed Save the Children’s significant role in the “Mary, queen of charity shops” BBC television series. She continued to work with Portas, then Grazia magazine, and headed up the biggest ever charity pop-up shop, raising £109,000 in three weeks.