Seven Surprising Things You Learn Working In a Charity Shop

People Shoplift from Charity Shops

This surprised me the most. The heartlessness of coming into a shop staffed by volunteers, raising money for a charitable cause… and nicking stuff. The pettiness of stealing things that are being sold for a pound. It’s not even like it’s poorer people stealing, either; it seems to be people who could easily afford the items at full retail price.

I walked in for an afternoon shift just as a full rack of jeans was discovered missing. There was just an empty rack, so whoever it was had just picked them all up with no regard for size or style and left with maybe ten pairs of jeans. More experienced staff said those jeans will likely end up on a market stall or on e-bay.

You Find Out All Kinds of Personal Things

Most people are aware that old ladies will happily tell everyone all about their latest surgery, but it turns out that all kinds of people will also happily tell charity shop staff the gory details of their personal lives. Women tell me at the till about their changes in breast size and point out the size of the bras they’re buying. People tell me exactly what reason they’re buying clothes for and exactly what they think of a relative who’s wedding it is.

The most interesting anecdote of all isn’t mine, but a coworker’s as they told me how weird it gets sometimes. An attractively dressed woman with a lot of make up on came in, and looked at revealing clothes and high heels, as she has done since when I’ve been in. This time, apparently, a man came up to her and asked her if she was working. After a moment of her panicked face, she told him to wait outside. Turns out she’s a sex worker. The funny part of the story is that my coworker says she carried on shopping for nearly an hour while the man stood around outside waiting!

People Act As If the Prices are Extortionate

It’s a charity shop. The things are mostly second hand and none of the clothes cost more than a fiver. There are some truly lovely, good quality items that seem to be brand new, and they’re priced higher than used and basic items while still being charity-shop cheap. Someone, people still try to sweet talk themselves discounts or complain about the price.

I helped a woman shorter than me, getting a handbag down off of the wall for her. We chatted about the designer label, the likelihood that it was real leather, and the as-new quality it was in. She took it to the till, but then asked in surprise if the price on the label was right; apparently £14.99 is a shocking price to ask for an as-new bag that is nearly £900 new, and she left without buying anything.

People Donate Brand New, Quality Items…

Having never really had a lot of money in my teens or adult life, I’ve only really given old clothes to younger relatives and more recently sold them on eBay, or binned them if they were too damaged. The things that go to the charity shop are things you don’t need to replace (and thus sell for money towards the replacement) and things that wouldn’t fit a relative. Seeing some of the great clothes and other things we get in the charity shop is a heart-warming reminder that people who are better off do actually donate their possessions rather than share and sell for extra money.

Just as the nearly £900, barely-used designer handbag, I’ve put out, neatened up or sold some items that it really reassures my faith in humanity to find donated. We’ve had brand new items, still in their packets, including mid-range shirts. I can tell many of the books donated to us have never been read, their spines stiff and pages pristine, and one or two even with the unfaded receipt still tucked into the back cover. Much of our nicest non-clothes items are PDSA items such as pet-themed décor, but even that gets donated; I’ve sold a painting and wondered who painted it, who donated such a lovely item.

…and Old, Broken Rubbish

Unfortunately, people also seem to see charity shops as a dump where you get to feel good about yourself, and we get people attempting to ‘donate’ all kinds of rubbish. We don’t take electrical items and things like bike helmets, as it’s near impossible for us to know if they’re in usable condition. We find that clothes are too ripped or that battery items have old, mouldy batteries in them, but that’s a judgement call.

It’s when people try to give us obviously cracked bike helmets that would be dangerous to use, puzzles and multi-piece toys with many pieces missing, or things that are blatantly of no use to anyone that’s most frustrating. I’ve even had to explain that no, we don’t take kitchen cupboard doors with no hinges or handles!

People Have Zero Common Sense

While it is a volunteering role for a charity, it’s also retail work in a high street shop. As such, you get all the same realisations of customer ignorance. There’s something about walking into a shop that makes people forget how to read, use logic and count, and it seems that charity shops are one of the worst for this.

The typical occurrence of people handing you clothes with labels on the top with huge £1 stickers and asking you how much they cost happens, as does people looking at a sign that says “3 items only in the changing room” then asking if the curtained area is a changing room or how many items they can take in. I had to repeatedly explain to a customer that while I personally did not know if the watch she was buying had a battery in it, it had been tested and did work. She walked over to a display while I rung her purchase up on the till, then asked if I had, in that time, tested the watch.

Charity Shops Are a Local Charity, Too

While the point of charity shops are already charities, raising money for animal, medical and international charities, the shops themselves provide a charitable service to the local community. In selling the things people have donated, charity shops are shops selling cheap second hand things that people can afford easier.

A woman came in to buy her kids some holiday clothes, as new clothes for 4 children can get very expensive very quickly. A couple of people come in regular, donating the puzzles they’ve completed and buying up new puzzles to do. In a conversation I had with a customer, I realised he was a homeless man buying an interview suit for less than £10. Working in a charity shop gives you a real insight into their role in the community.

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