In June last year I wrote quite passionately about my thoughts on the original Mary Queen of Charity Shops series.

(Hint: I didn’t like it much, read why here and here)

Well, I’ve just caught up with the re visit and I thought, seeing as I was so vocal last year, I should give a brief review of the re visit. Also, as a very regular Charity Shopper I thought I’d share my experiences of the changing face of the shops in the last year.

THE SHOW

This new “revisited” show, like most of these type of shows, spent 40 minutes showing me old footage from the 2 shows shown last Summer.

The last 20 minutes of new footage focused on Mary trying to increase the number and reduce the age of volunteers in Charity Shops. Apparently the average age of a High Street Shop Assistant is 36 and Mary wonders why Charity Shop staff are so much older.

I hesitate to state the obvious, but surely this is because High Street shops PAY their staff? People in their 20s and 30s are at work, and not able to give their time to Charity in this way. Students are a potential time rich market, but again, often want to spend their free time working to earn money.

Mary’s answer to the dearth of Younger volunteers was V Day. A day where people could just pop in and give a few hours whenever they felt like it. My feeling was that surely it’s difficult to run a shop properly with staff that just pop in and out when they feel like it. And what happens when 10 people turn up at lunch time on Saturday and you have more staff than customers? Still, it seemed to work for the Orpington store, so presumably there were details not shared in the show on how best to run the scheme.

MY EXPERIENCE

Well, this is where it all goes down hill. I am a very regular Charity Shop Shopper. I can barely pass one without popping in and I frequently spend a full day visiting every store. Today I am wearing a Wallis dress and New Look Shoes from a Charity Shop and yesterday my GAP skirt was also from a Charity Shop.

I have noticed a marked difference in the quality of my Charity Shopping experience since the first Mary Portas shows, and it hasn’t been for the better.

The layout of the stores I visit is much the same as it ever was. Not a single store of the many I visit has had any kind of refit since June last year. I still find racks full of clothes on ill fitting hangers, meaning I spend a lot of time untangling, picking up dropped items or getting otherwise frustrated. Very few have changing areas and many still don’t accept card payments.

The quality of the stock is also much as it ever was. Racks of Primark, George at Asda and Florence + Fred with occasional High Street finds and the very occasional designer or vintage piece, the holy grail of Charity Shopping (those these seem to be getting rarer). I still find handbags and pockets full of dirty tissues, dresses with stains or marks and torn seams.

The one change I have noticed is in the pricing.

Where as it used to be worth a rummage through racks of cheap, poor quality clothing to find a Calvin Klein wool skirt for £5, now, when you find that skirt it’s likely to be priced at £20+. It’s not just the designer clothing that has seen the Mary Portas effect either, many shops are now charging almost as much as the original price for clothing from “bargain” High Street stores like Primark.

A sad side effect of this pricing increase has been that stock turn over also seems to have decreased. I will return to the same Shop week after week and find the same “quality” items still on the shelves at their increased price points while only the lower priced items have moved. Yesterday I heard staff in a Cancer Research shop complaining they had too much stock upstairs as there was no room on the shop floor, yet I left empty handed as I saw 4 dresses that I loved, but, at all over £10, they were just too much. If they had been priced at £5 the store would have been £20 richer and they could have put 4 new pieces out. I was the only customer in the store.

Ultimately the time I spend in Charity Shops has decreased in profitability for me as those gems hidden amongst the rubbish are no longer there.

And I’m not the only one who feels this way. When I asked on Twitter about other peoples experiences of Charity Shopping over the last year I got many responses, and most said the same thing.

msemerdoom – i have noticed a lot of primark and george clothing for more than they would cost full price!

KrishnaMaroo – I always go to charity shops (2 a day – you’ve got to be in it to win it) They are more expensive now, and have less vintage

MissPeelpants – I would spend more, but the feelings of nausea as I rifle rails of ‘Atmosphere’ clothes at £10 a pop is too much to bear…

iFlorrie – why pay £2.99 for a DVD you can get the same price in the supermarket.

Tuileries – Mary launched her Living & Giving shop just round the corner from me. it looks amazing, but it’s really empty, so I usually walk past it & just go to the others. They tend to have way more stuff

MinimumMouse – I love charity shops, but I agree that many are getting more expensive. Some also only stock new-ish stuff – not what I want!

BananaFudgeStud – I did. Very rarely do now. Charity shops have just become extension of retail these days with new stock and not vintage.

It’s not that I don’t want Charity Shops to make money from their donations, I really do! My feeling is that schemes like the Oxfam online shop, are the ideal way to bring Charity Shops into the 21st Century and ensure they make fair money from their items. “Special” donations could be sold online, either through the website or through eBay perhaps. It’s just that relying on that one person who will fit, and want, that item, for that price, to walk through the door of your Charity Shop seems an impossible proposal.

The problem is that no one has told me that they have STARTED shopping in Charity Shops recently, only that they’ve stopped due to lack of variety and higher prices.

It seems there are people out there looking for something different. Seeking an alternative to the bland High Street experience, but Charity Shops are no longer providing that for them.

Photos by clevercupcakes , Thomas Hawk , kiki99 , Paloetic