The charity shop brand has never been stronger!


Why it’s charity retail’s time to shine and how marketing can help

Blog by Julian Temblett – ‘The Charity Marketeer’ for the Charity Retail Consultancy

It’s very easy to get caught up in the current doom and gloom.  With inflation rising, an energy and cost of living crisis, rail strikes and high street retailers preparing for a challenging Christmas ahead – I sometimes feel like I’ve woken up back in the 1970’s.   And I know our sector has its own significant challenges.  The post Covid world and recent events have left us with less volunteers, staff shortages, a rise in energy bills and a likely drop in stock donations, as people buy less and trade more.   But now is not the time to press the panic button.   A couple of weeks ago I took a stroll up Park Street in Bristol, and was reminded of why I feel optimistic about what lies ahead.  Park Street has always been one of Bristol’s most premium of retail destinations, and today is no different.  With a mixture of top end fashion brands like Fred Perry and Jigsaw, noodle bars and students on scooters – there is definitely a buzz in the air.   What is most striking however is that a new fashion phenomenon has arrived.   I was visiting the British Heart Foundation’s new boutique shop at the top of the street, which sits alongside a growing array of thrift and vintage stores.  If this can happen on Park Street – it can happen anywhere.

Charity shops are now being welcomed, not shunned

BHF, Park St, Bristol

This is an incredible turnaround for a sector once stigmatised as ‘bringing down’ the high street.  You can literally ‘feel the love for preloved’ in the air.  The same goes on social media, and even local retailers have welcomed the new BHF shop with donations of end of line stock and gifts for opening day customers.   This follows a number of major social trends, from the environmental crisis and desire for a greater sense of community following Covid, to a new generation of consumers searching for authenticity who proudly wear preloved as a badge of honour.   At the start of the year Forbes highlighted ‘conscious consumers and the environment’ as their top retail trend, and every business and commercial retailer now has ‘sustainability and social purpose’ near the top of the to do list.

This is of course all music to our ears, because no one else can deliver more on these trends than charity shops.  Every time we tell a story about the money and carbon saved from switching to preloved, or the charitable services funded by donating unwanted items – our collective brand just keeps getting stronger.  Yes, we have always tended to do well during recessions – but these customer changes are on a different scale.

The competition is only going to increase

Patagonia, Bristol

But this is also not the time for complacency.   The other significant change is that the commercial sector has now truly woken up.   Whilst this has been building over the years, research from Thred-up suggests the market for fashion resale will double by 2025, with 62% of millennials and gen Z consumers in the US now searching for second hand before buying new.   Where the customer goes, commercial investment and innovation will follow.  New ‘sustainable’ propositions will pop up on high streets, major retailers will increase space for resale, and advertising spend will rocket.   On Park Street you get a taster of what’s to come.  Patagonia offer to mend your old garments, recycle unwanted t-shirts and promote petitions to help save the planet.  One thrift store promotes its loyalty rewards and regular offers on Instagram, and another allows you to trace a product’s origins with a QR code.  All of this is music to Gen Z’s ears.

How we can all use marketing to help 

Whilst the sector is already responding with a focus in areas such as ecommerce, social media and new store formats – I think many of the answers lie within the need for effective marketing.   Going back to marketing basics can help all of us, no matter our size or budget.  There are 5 key ways I think marketing can help…

1.Listening to our customers – at the heart of all marketing is a need to put ourselves in the customers shoes. Surveys, mystery shops and even focus groups can all be done on a budget, and provide rich information to ensure we know what our customers want and think of our offer

2. Being more strategic – Setting goals, being clear on the customers we are targeting, and shaping a joined-up plan of action that everyone buys into, really can help to focus resources, inspire teams and deliver results

3. Using cost effective means of promotion – Whether it’s providing shop teams with the key resources and support they need to promote themselves and engage their communities, or coordinating central charity colleagues to promote retail campaigns – we need to exploit every opportunity we can to market ourselves

4. Matching our product offering to our customers’ needs – from vintage sections to corporate volunteer days and post-back donations – we need to keep innovating to appeal to a new generation of customers

5. Making our products and services more available – whether it’s a pop-up at a festival, a concession in a supermarket or a new online selling platform – we need to find new ways to take our offer out to customers. And the same goes with stock and volunteering, where local communities and partnerships provide rich opportunities to promote our services

Oxfam’s Second Hand September and Barnardo’s ‘Fashion for all’ campaigns are shining examples of what can be achieved on a national scale.  And many specialist shops, like BHF Park Street, appeal directly to their local customer.   Whatever the size of your chain, the same basic marketing principles apply.   The most important thing to remember is that the customer is always right, and if we recognise this and respond accordingly, then I really do think it will be charity retail’s time to shine.


If you can see the value in more effective marketing, then why not get in touch and let us help? Our expertise can make an impact quickly, provide support to your teams, and avoid having to add to the already long to do list.

Julian Temblett is the ‘Charity Retail Marketeer’ for the Charity Retail Consultancy, providing a range of affordable marketing services, training and support to help charities of all sizes.

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