For Australians in need, the local charity shop is a source of affordable and quality clothes, shoes, furniture and household items.
But growing interest in sustainable shopping and vintage clothing, along with the rise of the #thrifting trend on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram has seen an increase in the popularity of op shops.
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The growth in demand has led some charity shops to change their business model and raise prices, and some shoppers say it makes shopping there unaffordable.
This is particularly challenging for regular op shoppers at a time when living expenses are rising.
Shoppers are feeling the price hikes
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One Sydney shopper told The Drum that prices at her local charity shop have doubled in the last year and a half.
“The prices have gone up a lot in my opinion”, she said.
“You used to go in and pay $2 or $5 — and now, for the same thing, you’re paying $25 and upwards.”
Another young Sydney shopper told The Drum he no longer turns to charity shops for clothing, like he did when he lived in London, because of how expensive they’ve become.
“It’s usually the same price as you could get it for brand new — it’s not really a good price,” he said.
But he still frequents op shops to support sustainability.
“For me, charity shops are about rejuvenating clothes as quickly as possible so it’s not going to waste and someone is getting a good use out of it.”
Why are prices going up?
Head of retail at Red Cross Australia, Richard Wood, acknowledges that the sector is changing as a result of increasing demand, particularly in metropolitan areas.
“I think op shops over the last decade or so have changed demonstrably,” he said.
“If you went back 10, 20 years ago, you would find that lots of people wouldn’t want to admit they shopped in an op shop but would be happy to admit they donated.
“But now we are seeing a lot of people coming through that are really proud to say they are shopping at op shops.”
The shift in demographics of consumers has led the Red Cross to restructure its marketing model in some inner city stores, but he says when it comes to pricing there are “three important considerations”.
“The first is, the product needs to be good value and that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be cheap,” he says.
“You might have a $50 Country Road item that is great quality and a lot of people wouldn’t regard that as being cheap, but they could see that as really good value.”
Second, he respects the intent of the person donating the item to the charity store.
“I was in our Leura shop just a couple weeks ago and I was next to a lady who picked something off the rack,” Mr Wood says.
“She sort of gasped at the product.”
She thought the product was priced too low.
“She had donated that product and was disappointed that we weren’t actually getting more for it,” he explains.
Charity stores do more than provide affordable shopping — they also raise money to support disadvantaged and vulnerable Australians.
Finally, he is considering the programs Red Cross supports through the money raised in their shops.
“The money that we raise through the shops goes to support those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable and they are often not in the areas that we have a shop,” Mr Wood says.
“They can be affected by disaster anywhere in the country, or they could be on the end of a phone call in the morning from a Red Cross team checking in to see that they’re okay.”
Costs aren’t going up everywhere
Omer Soker, chief executive of Charitable Recycling Australia, also wants to remind consumers that the price rises are isolated to certain stores, and complaints do not accurately represent the cost of many items.
“There are 3,000 charity shops,” Mr Soker says.
“For every cool, vintage, bespoke one, there are nine others doing everyday essentials — and our benchmarking shows the average item price is $5, that’s across all products.”
The growth in the charity sector is also leading to reduced fashion waste, and he says we should be encouraging more people to donate to — and shop in — op shops for this reason.
“I think there’s about 1 million tonnes diverted from landfill each year, almost $1 billion raised for social good, and 8,000 tonnes of carbon emissions saved,” he says.
“So more growth means more of that.”