Claire Gardner: Not buying deluxe charity shop idea

Shopping for a bargain. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Shopping for a bargain. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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WHAT’S not to love about bagging a bargain at a charity shop?

Even the snobbiest shopper cannot deny that heart-stopping moment of joy when they spot a real deal nestling in the racks of shirts or skirts – or whatever floats your boat.

In most of these second-hand establishments there are usually books galore, golf clubs for dad, maybe a teapot cosy for granny.

And the kids’ stuff? As many self-respecting parent will know, several hours can be whiled away in even the most basic of charity shops.

There are the DVDs and the cuddly toys, and the flashing plastic thingies and dressing-up clothes, and the ever-patient volunteers peering and smiling over the counter.

And for the ladies? More often than not there’s a winter jacket or a maxi dress or a top that’s just the job. Then there is the satisfaction of swishing off down the high street dressed head to toe in a new-to-you outfit, knowing that the lives of children in Africa might just improve because of you.

Well, I say head-to-toe, but for me there has always been a slight question mark hovering over certain items. Second-hand bras, nighties and shoes have always been a bit of a no-no – until recently, when my astronomically poor standard of dress really hit a new low.

Even since I popped into a high street shoe shop and had to be resuscitated after discovering that a pair of pumps started at £50, I had been on the look out for something cheaper.

Then, while strolling past a charity shop window, I saw some snazzy shoes winking at me. They were cream and clean and looked rather comfy. (On closer inspection there was a faint odour of foot rot, but that was a minor detail.)

So excited was I with my new purchase that I slipped them on right away and flounced off. And apart from giving me a dose of Athlete’s Foot, there really have been no hitches with my new-old footwear.

So you can see that there is no stronger advocate of the charity shop bargain than I.

However, there has been a recent development of late that I have found rather irksome – and it’s all to do with price hikes.

As the economic gloom continues, more and more people are flocking to second-hand shops to get more for their money. Figures for last year showed that the annual income for UK charity shops had reached an all-time high of almost £1 billion – that’s an increase of 34 per cent on 2011.

The unhappy task of juggling shrinking household budgets has taken its toll particularly on mothers with young children, who have become particularly dependent on these shops for cheap clothes and toys, according to the Charity Retail Association.

Now, I think it’s great that these outlets are proving real options for budget shoppers. However, (and I’m going to whisper this now for fear of being banned from my local charity shops), they seem to have become rather pricey.

For many people the joy of a charity shop purchase is the give and take – the economic ebb and flow. Shoppers walk away with a bargain, and the charity shop gets cash for good causes –everyone is happy.

But it seems charity shops are developing their own “Finest” lines – and selling the more deluxe goods for bigger bucks.

Last week I spotted a (slightly fusty smelling) cashmere top with a price tag of £40. Come on! Pay £40 for a smelly top with a stain and a small hole?

And it seems some shop volunteers have no concept of the real price of new clothes bought in outlets such as Primark and New Look. A new T-shirt from shops like these might set you back a few quid – yet second time round they are priced at £4.

Books are yet another area where the price tags are often quite wrong. Novels you can snap up on Amazon for £3 are being resold for more. And then they ask you to return them after you’ve read them so they can sell them again – do they not know that local libraries hire books for free?

Now I know criticising charities will do nothing to improve my chances of passage through the Pearly Gates, but I do think there needs to be a reality check when some of these outlets are asking hard-up shoppers to pay over the odds for stuff the shops have been given for free.

Of course this doesn’t mean I’m going to stop raking through clothes rails to bag a bargain at my local charity shops.

Who knows, I might even test depths previously unrecorded and purchase a pair of pyjamas from one.

But I’m also sure I’m not going to pay more than £3 for the privilege.