We explore the benefits of e-commerce for good, and how charities can get started with online shops.
The old-school charity shop is still a beloved fixture of UK high streets. Nowhere else can you pick up a second-hand copy of that paperback you always wanted to read, a knock-off designer coat and a whimsical knitted tea cosy all in one fell swoop, all for a great cause – a win-win all around.
Recessions, political uncertainty, and now economy-flattening pandemics – retailers have taken blow after blow, and it shows. But according to the Charity Shops Survey 2019, all this may be having the opposite effect on the humble charity shop.
In fact, evidence has shown that while commercial retail on the UK high street has continued to suffer, profits from charity shops have actually risen over the last two years as people appreciate the draw of a bargain during hard times, and trends towards sustainable fashion, vintage thrifting and upcycling make charity shops bang on trend with younger, conscientious shoppers.
That isn’t to say that charities should rest on their laurels – far from it. Amidst the sustained crisis in high street retailing, charities, like everyone else, are having to modernise the way they sell goods. This has led to the rise of the specialised charity shop and the charity superstore, but increasingly this also means going digital, with around half of charities with shops also selling online.
The online edge
Charities are having to pull out all the stops to compete with each other and commercial retailers, and while the traditional charity shop still has its place, alongside them online alternatives are growing fast.
Digital charity shops represent a huge opportunity for charities to expand their reach – rent-free.
A Charity Retail Association report last year found that 81% said it helped them expand their reach and customer base, while 88% say the move has allowed them to get the best possible price for unusual and high-value items, such as collectables and antiques.
But for smaller charities already putting expense and volunteer time towards a charity shop, there can seem to be significant barriers to entry in terms of expertise and time. One small charity told the Charity Retail Association: “We should be selling online but have no idea how to get started, how to allocate sales to specific shops, how to manage the fulfilment and whether we should employ specific staff to do it.”
How to get started with e-commerce
A sustainable approach to digital selling takes work, but online charity retail doesn’t have to mean starting completely from scratch by building your own e-commerce website. An easy way to get started experimenting with online selling for charities is to use third-party e-commerce platforms.
Last year, UK charities raised over £17.5 million on eBay – in fact, 97% of those selling online use the auction platform, according to Charity Retail Association figures.
This is no surprise considering that the site has made its name as an online second-hand marketplace. eBay can be a great option for selling furniture and clothing, giving charities the option to get started experimenting with online selling without any of the typical overheads, in a way that is quick and easy to set up.
Charity digital agency White Fuse advises that charities register with payment infrastructure PayPal Giving Fund to ensure easy access to revenue and an automatic presence on eBay.
According to the Charity Retail Association, Amazon is popular for charities wanting to sell donated books, music, DVDs and video games.
Many charities are also taking advantage of websites like Re-fashion and Thrift+ - e-commerce platforms selling second-hand high street and designer fashion, with a large portion of their income going to charities.
Whatever platforms they choose to start selling on, charities often need help planning and managing their online stores. There are digital tools that can help ease some of the workload on staff and volunteers.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one solution, platforms like Wix provide a way for organisations to host their own e-commerce website using templates and an easy to use content management system designed for the non-coder. Designed specifically for e-commerce, it also comes with everything you need to manage orders and inventory, shipping and payments.
The Charity Retail Association’s research found that charities recommend the use of e-commerce management software that can help give them a full view of all their e-commerce operations – particularly useful for charities selling across multiple channels.
Charities report using platforms like Magento, Shopify, Monsoon Commerce and Linnworks - multi-channel order management and stock control software which can automate the core processes for online sellers, while giving you data analytics to help improve your revenue intake over time. Some of them allow charities to develop their own online stores, or to manage marketplaces like Ebay and Amazon all in one place.