Given cheap new technology, why are charity shops missing the donor under their roof?

There are over 10,000 charity shops across the UK and growing, partly thanks to small retailers closing shops. Despite the doom and gloom the media likes to spread about the high street the simple fact is, we still spend 88.5% of retail spend there (and in malls and similar places). And that’s official government figures, not hyped up ones. So whatever you may have been lead to believe, the high street is still a profitable place to be.


It’s also where over 30 million of us are carrying our smart phones, and using them more and more within the retail environment. So the big challenge of retail is how we engage consumers with brands via the mobile. Proximity Mobile Marketing (PMM) is a big talking point in retail circles at the moment.

But not all charity shops are having a great time, some are seeing profits and sales going down. It seems the competition isn’t just from other charity shops but discount retailers like Primark, £1 shops, £5 clothing boutiques and the internet. Consumers are no longer popping in to get a bargain because they can get new so cheap or find that elephant shaped tea pot on eBay.

Some shop have diversified, Oxfam now sells a wide range of new products, including food and toiletries, and have vintage clothing and specialist book & music shops.


Having recently been researching charity shops (I have 8 alone in my high street) not one tried to get me to donate while visiting the shop. What a missed opportunity, yet they are spending a small fortune trying to target consumers on-line.

Millions of us still visit charity shops every week, making us the perfect target for making a donation – right place, right time, right frame of mind.

Shockingly, research we carried out in one high street revealed that 17% of people didn’t know what the charity was they’d be in the store of. So not much for engaging customers!

The problem seems to be, that once a charity opens a shop it sees it as just a retail space, not a marketing opportunity.  Given modern ways to donate via mobiles – text, via websites and now Near Field Communications (NFC), I believe that a lot of charity shops could reverse their decline in sales through donations, or increase the profitability more.

One calculation estimates that one chain of 500 stores could easily make an extra £2m through a more intelligent marketing strategy in-store and donations through mobiles.

NFC technology (Near Field Communications) means a consumer can instantly connect with a charity’s website and their donation page, via their mobile (or direct to a third party like Just Giving or PayPal). All they need to do is touch a NFC tag with their smartphone (90% of smartphones are NFC enabled in preparation for mobile payment and ticketing and there are now over 22 millon NFC enable phones in the UK) and it instantly opens a website (or app). So quick and easy, just like putting a pound in a tin.


NFC is already being integrated into print, POS, ambient media and posters (Clear Channel, the biggest investor in outdoor technologies, have over 25,000 Adshel poster sites installed with NFC). So it’s a simple and cheap technology to integrated into key touch points around a shop – display areas, changing rooms, by the tills, by the entrance/exit and on the window for when the shop is closed. So a low investment for a high potential return.

Of course you do need to use technology creatively, not just assume it’ll attract customers on it’s own. It depresses me to see campaigns that haven’t gone through a creative agency that uses technologies so badly, it’s a bit like playing Chopsticks on a concert grand piano. But then if you just want to leave your creativity to a media buying agency, you only have yourself to blame.

Other technologies are also available like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which you may know as beacons or Apple’s version, the iBeacon. Great technology but more expensive to set up and it has to be connected to the IT architecture, unlike NFC which is independent.

Of course there’s also low tech – the good old fashion collecting box, simple signage or an interesting POS could attract your attention. Or even more basic, training the staff to ask people to give – face to face is still the most powerful marketing tool of all.

Having worked with over 30 charities, on all varieties of marketing, I know they are all restricted by internal politics, often a lack of adventure and too much bureaucracy (sorry, just being honest). But if you can step over all that, it does make sense.

An old saying revamped, A bird in the charity shop is worth two online.”