Anyone who reads the blog regularly will know I'm always in the Mustard Tree shop in Ancoats. After the success of previous Mondays, I decided to have another walk up the other day and was delighted to find that the 'Fill a Bag for £2.50' sale was still on with restocked rails. Though all was not well...
During my browsing* time, I saw a fair few items of clothing that I knew could be sold on for profit which sent my brain into absolute meltdown regarding the moral implications of such a transaction. Just to be clear, I'm not talking life changing amounts of money here - I think if you have an eye for certain collectables or antiques, there is a substantial profit to be made from buying with the purpose of selling but I'm purely talking about clothing.
I'm sure I'm not the first person to buy something from a charity shop with a view to take it lovingly into my wardrobe and wear it until it falls apart but on getting it home, discover it doesn't fit and rather than donate it back, has put it on eBay (or similar). I don't see a problem with that at all because that's more of an accident (although maybe I should try things on!) - I think what I'm trying to address is the buying specifically with the clear intention to sell on. I think that can raise criticisms. I also want to point out that if you're buying to sell, there are tax implications and you need to let HMRC know as technically, you're operating a business.
In my experience, second hand clothing doesn't sell for all that much on eBay and fees from the site and from PayPal cut into any profits you might make.
However, the medium-sized carriers which Mustard Tree offer for the 'Fill a Bag for £2.50' sale can fit a fair few items in - probably about six or seven pieces of clothing. By my fast-maths calculations, you're paying about 38p an item there. If everything in your bag is good quality, a current season style and from a decent brand, there is undoubtedly a profit to be made.
I opened this up on Instagram and of those people who responded, the majority were in support of selling on. Here are a few of the points:
1) Regardless of the reason for buying an item, the money still ends up in the till.
If the person who buys to sell on doesn't purchase, there's nothing to say anyone else will. After going through pass-on, the item may end up going for rag which would mean a vastly depleted price. It's better for the charity to sell at full price, regardless of who is paying it and what their intentions are for the item.
2) Shops are savvy.
Most shops have clear instructions to volunteers detailing how much
different brands can make. The shopper is paying the charity the price they asked for the item which is the best a shop can hope for. In general, shops price according to value and are wise to the worth. With this in mind, you're probably very lucky to find anything to make a profit on.
3) Charity shoppers are a kind bunch.
Casual selling on comes from some real charity shop lovers who also buy for themselves and donate unwanted items too. For many sellers, the money they make goes back into buying more from charity shops - therefore, it's a cycle that helps everyone. Potentially finding something to sell on may also encourage you to shop more and spend more with a charity.
However, there were some points raised against:
1) If buying to sell happens too often, it proves the charity isn't getting the best price.
Shops need to price competetively but have different avenues for sales now including eBay. If a buyer can generate a profit on an item, the shop should be charging more or listing these items online themselves.
2) Charity shops sometimes hold back items for sellers which means shoppers don't get to see them.
I know a lot of charity shops offer staff and volunteers discount but the rule is normally that the item goes on the shop floor first to give customers a chance to see everything. This could be important to ensure customers have faith in the shop and they may lose customers if they know items are being saved specifically for buyers to sell on.
3) Buying to sell can offend volunteers.
One Shop Manager mentioned that a customer told a volunteer that he would be selling the items and the volunteer was really offended. I think that's really valid - most volunteers volunteer because they support the cause and wouldn't want to think the charity was losing out on money. They also give up their time free and work hard to increase funds gained through retail. Maybe it can seem wasted and unfair that someone should make a quick profit?
4) Considering the purpose of the shops, making a profit from goods is 'distasteful'.
Marc Crosby, writing here addresses the issue that 'Charity shops...are there to help the poor and disadvantaged, so looking to make a profit from items you bought there is distasteful.'
I'm still very much sitting on the fence with this issue. I didn't buy to sell in Mustard Tree even though I knew I could've made a few quid. Even when my £2.50 bag wasn't full and the staff member suggested I could get a few more items in it, I didn't go back and collect what I thought could make money even though I would've paid the same amount to the charity. Maybe that was a bit foolish of me?
The actual reason I didn't was because it was Mustard Tree. The Ancoats shop supports disadvantaged people in the area in which I live and I know the volunteers who work there also shop there. The whole operation seems a lot more personal than a lot of other shops I go into and I don't like to think I'm taking something from someone who might love it.
I'm really sentimental when it comes to clothing; I shop in charity shops partly because I like the thought of giving something a new life after it was unwanted. I also don't care about money. Finding something lovely at such a bargain price might make someone's day and I don't want to take that away from someone because I could make a few quid - I don't think that's a fair trade.
But then am I saying I'd buy to sell somewhere that was more of 'chain' charity? Yes, probably. Is that fair?
I'm still really keen to know what other charity shoppers make of this issue so please comment below if you feel strongly about this!
*'browsing' makes me seem quite passive. I'm actually very protective over
my bargains as one lady found out when making a beeline for some
items I'd temporarily placed at the end of of a rail. 'SORRY I'VE JUST PUT THEM DOWN, I'M 100% BUYING THEM! THANKS' 'Oh goodness, sorry...'