UK charity shops go online to plug Covid spending gap


Charity shops, the stalwart of many British high streets, are turning to selling online as they try to plug the large gap in funding caused by the Covid pandemic.

The number of items sold online by charities soared by 151% in the six months between February and July, according to data from Shopiago, which is behind a web-based platform that enables charities to enter e-commerce.

The majority of online charity shop sales during the period took place on eBay, where charities usually do not pay fees and can reach a wider audience.

Pet supplies, baby products and sports memorabilia were some of the top sellers online for charity shops during the spring and summer, according to Shopiago.

The British Red Cross, Sue Ryder, Barnardo’s and the British Heart Foundation were among those putting donations received in their stores up for sale online.

“Charities across the country are increasingly understanding that online can significantly support in-store revenue. In fact, online sales have provided a funding lifeline for many charities during the pandemic, when their high street shops have shut and fundraising events haven’t happened,” said Thom Bryan, the head of product at Shopiago.

High street charity shops took a financial hit from lengthy closures during successive lockdowns, leading them to look for new ways to advertise their goods to a wider range of consumers, not just those who visit their local stores.

The average store lost more than £33,000 in income during the early 2021 lockdown, according to data from the Charity Retail Association (CRA), which represents about 400 charities running thousands of shops.

In a normal year, charity shops take £1.4bn in revenue, which results in about £330m in profit for parent charities.

Charities benefitted from a surge in donations after their shops reopened in the spring, as consumers dropped off bags of belongings they had sorted out during lockdown, but also had to contend with a slight drop-off in volunteers as a result of the pandemic.

The CRA said shoppers were not always aware that they could support charities by purchasing items online as well as in-store.

“Bricks and mortar shops will always be the lifeblood of the charity retail sector, not only for sales, but for collecting donations, and finding the treasures that fetch good prices online,” said Jonathan Mail, the head of public affairs at the CRA.

He recommended consumers visit to see where they can buy items online or in-store.

“Now people using our ‘find an online shop’ tool can choose whether to stay home and shop or head out to a store in person – either way, supporting your favourite charities is more important than ever,” Mail said.

Charities are also hoping to benefit from greater interest among consumers in recycling and reusing items, as well as shoppers’ desire to hunt out bargains during tough economic times.


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