Charity shop

Charity retail sector outlook: 6

26/10/2023 13:55

A monthly blog by the Chief Executive summarising key trends and highlights from our reports.


With grateful thanks to BDO for use of their monthly Charity Retail Sales Tracker (CRST) headline data (normally available only to participants) produced by BDO in conjunction with ourselves.

Hello, and welcome to the October Chief Executive’s blog.

The headline

This month showed an overall year on year growth in September of 6.1% (August was 4.8%). Again a very solid LFL performance, especially compared to a very strong equivalent period in 2022.

Reflections on SROI

I write this the day after we launched our amazing report on the Social Return on Investment of charity shops. And what a launch it was, attended by both the Charities Minister and a senior Labour party representative in spite of some significant parliamentary pressures, and with loads of our members in attendance. The report, supported by CRA corporate member Foot Anstey, really shows what charity retail is all about. We’ve all known for a long time that calculating the financial contribution of charity shops to their parent charities is important but is only one part of the picture. Clearly the third of a billion pounds that charity shops produce is vital income for charities, and clearly that is the shops’ principal function; but as this report shows, charity retail is so much more than that.

So what does it say?

  • It says that there is a huge amount of social value embodied in charity shops, for staff, volunteers, customers and donors
  • It says that this is worth overall an incredible £75billion (yes billion) in wellbeing to the groups of people concerned
  • It says that for every £1 of input into charity shops (including the value of donated goods), they generate £7.35 of social value

And it says a lot more besides, which you can read here. But what’s the significance of all this? It’s worth reflecting a while on why we have done this work, and the wider significance of charity shops in society.

The other day, most unusually, I went into a commercial clothing retailer. Don’t shoot me – I was at an airport, a bit bored, and I popped in to have a look. As usual, the stock was immaculately curated, with very neatly arranged racks and shelves, colour organized, and tempting. As usual, the staff had little to do except fold clothes that had been examined and looked extremely bored. As usual the dwell time, even allowing for the airport effect, was extremely short. As usual, nobody spoke to one another except for during a transaction. It struck me then that we were looking at an enterprise designed to do nothing except make money for shareholders – environmental considerations were nowhere, the shopping experience was dispiriting but probably very profitable for the shop concerned, and I was definitely in the temple of Mammon. You’ll not be surprised to hear that my personal dwell time was also very short – and suddenly the dubious attraction of another cup of coffee at Pret a Manger seemed preferable.

Two weeks ago, with a delegation from the French organization Refashion, I was in one of our member’s shops in an affluent part of London. A steady stream of customers were stopping by, many of whom were known to the staff and volunteers, and some of whom stopped for a chat. The shop manager’s enthusiasm and expertise were evident for all to see – her staff and customers clearly loved her and these ongoing relationships showed a huge contrast to the transactional interactions in the airport. Once again, as so often in the 8 years I have had this job, I was enormously struck by the humanity, sustainability (in all senses) and community engagement that charity shops provide.

This is the real story behind the SROI report. We wanted to understand these effects better, and we wanted to attempt to put a number on it, because that is the language a lot of our legislators and other stakeholders understand. So for the first time we have been able to quantify the social value, as well as the financial value of our sector. We have put a huge number on it because that is what the tried and tested methodology of the report led us to – and what that does is confirm in numbers what we have known all along in our hearts.


It’s clear that trading remains solid and I’m sure that everyone is looking forward to the Christmas peak. It will be very interesting to see if some of the anecdotal reports that are coming forward about losing high quality stock to online platforms continue – we still believe that there is enough good quality stock to go around but cost of living pressures are certainly causing more potential donors to sell stuff rather than donate it. There is certainly a possibility that this will cause a reduction in stock quality if not quantity, but I think it’s too early to see the effect that this will have on ongoing sales. Our next quarterly market analysis, due next month, will no doubt show us some trends in this and other areas.

One of the other delightful things about last night’s launch was the presence of a number of Instagram influencers, young people for whom the importance of sustainability in fashion and the amazing finds that can be had, the creativity and variety, are crucial to their shopping decisions and experience. For all these reasons, charity retail really does have a bright future.

Hope Christmas has started well for everyone, or will do if you haven’t started yet!