Charity shops reopen today, providing many organisations with welcome revenue. This is an opportunity for charities to use their digital tools and skills to unlock the fundraising potential of e-commerce
For those of you tired of scrolling listlessly through Amazon, charity shops throughout the UK re-open today. Retail enthusiasts missing the tangible experience and thrill of finding a bargain will welcome the news almost as much as the charities who have been missing out on that vital revenue.
But the charity shops that open their doors to the public will be very different places to the ones that closed at the beginning of our third lockdown and they will certainly be different from the pre-COVID-19 charity shops.
Safety measures for shops mean that there will be limitations on the number of people who can browse a charity shop at any one time, to help ensure that social distancing is possible. That means that queues outside are likely.
And despite an expected surge in donations, all new goods will have to go through the standard COVID-19 protocols before being put on the shelves, stretching storage space to the limits.
But e-commerce offers a solution. The charity sector has the opportunity to support their beloved charity shops with digital charity stores and shopfronts.
Digital fundraising through online retailing is not particularly new: the first online charity shop was launched by Oxfam back in 2007. People spend more time online than ever before, and with supporters’ new-found enthusiasm for online shopping, there’s a huge opportunity for charities to establish online charity shops as major digital fundraising sources.
The key reason that charities should be considering establishing an online retail presence is to reach more customers. This includes the younger generation which is more used to mobile shopping – and mobile giving – and there’s the added benefit that an online shop can also reach new potential supporters overseas. The digital fundraising potential is enormous: Oxfam’s store reportedly raises over £2 million every year.
But there are other benefits too. The Charity Retail Association says that online stores help charities reach a higher selling price for unusual or high-value goods. In particular, unrecognised treasures are less likely to be unwittingly sold for a few pounds or pence. And customers who buy an item can also be redirected to your charity website, potentially increasing the reach of your charity and encouraging further donations from new donors and existing supporters.
Taking your charity shop online allows you to create an online forum in which to engage directly with your supporters. You can share interesting content about your organisation, your values and your activities.
For most charities considering a move to online retailing, there is an important initial choice to be made: do you set up your own e-commerce platform, probably on your existing website, or do you make use of an existing third-party e-commerce platform?
The advantage of third-party retail platforms, which include eBay and Amazon, is that all the e-commerce infrastructure is in place and managed for you.
For that reason they are popular with charities just starting out in e-commerce: 97% of charities with online retail operations sell on eBay to a greater or lesser extent, according to the Charity Retail Association.
One way to use eBay is to have your own dedicated online charity shop on the site. Many charities have chosen to do this, including British Heart Foundation, CLIC Sargent, Royal British Legion, and Cancer Research UK.
You can also sell items without having a dedicated store and your charity can also sign up for a payment service called PayPal Giving, and then encourage donors or supporters to list and sell goods on eBay for Charity. For everything they sell, a proportion (up to 100%) of the sale price is given to your charity through your PayPal Giving account.
Second-hand clothes selling and swapping apps like Vinted and Shpock and websites like Re-fashion and Thrift+ have proved popular with charities looking to tap into a growing consumer awareness around fast fashion and ethical consumption.
Sooner or later you may decide to take the plunge and launch your own online charity shop, most likely as part of your existing charity website. This may be a relatively simple retail operation selling a small range of goods branded with your charity’s name, or a fully-fledged online charity shop selling a wide range of donated items.
One of the main benefits of this is that all your marketing materials and initiatives which drive traffic to your charity website will also drive traffic to your online store. Tied into this, you also have complete control of the UX design and customer experience. That means you can match it with your existing marketing materials and brand image.
The good news is that you don’t need to write any software yourself, as there are a number of well-polished e-commerce products including Shopify, 3dcart, and Magento that plug into existing websites.
These allow you to display goods with a price and "buy" button, and include a shopping cart, checkout, and payment facilities. If your charity website is built using WordPress then you can also use WordPress’s e-commerce options.
Setting up an online store can be deceptively simple, however, because there are a number of things that you need to think about before you will be ready to open its digital doors. These include: