Charities reopening their shops should consider a new way of doing business

Published by Susan Robinson on 26 May 2020

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The Government has advised retailers to prepare to open stores in mid-June. However, for many charities with retail operations this may prove difficult and could be less profitable than staying closed, unless they adapt quickly.

The issue for many charities, especially the smaller ones, is that their shops are small, they tend to be very full of stock and if they open, they might be overwhelmed by donations from the wardrobes and cupboards we have all been tidying during recent weeks. Many shops have little or no storage space and they tend to be run by older volunteers who might be unable to return to the shop if they are self-isolating at home. It is going to take a different approach for many charities and there will be many factors that they need to weigh up before deciding whether to reopen.

Whilst reopening will bring in much needed revenue for the charity, some of the issues they will face include:

Staffing – charities might need to appeal for new volunteers to help them staff their shops.

Payments – purchases are frequently made in cash for small amounts, so adopting an electronic payment system should be considered as a way of reducing the risk of transmitting the virus.

Queuing systems – the high street locations of many charity shops might make queues and keeping to a 2m distance more difficult, so it will be important to consider if this can be effectively managed.

Browsing behaviour – charity shop customers tend to want to come in and browse and charities will need to consider whether these customers will be the ones who will return when shops do open again, especially if their core customer base is in groups being advised to shield for longer.

The post pandemic retail world will change and charities will need to adapt and change with it. They should consider the greater use of technology to enable them to interact and engage with customers online. For example, they could sell more goods online or offer a virtual tour of the shop to enable people to browse or buy online, but they will need to factor in the costs of distribution and returns to do this. They could seek to engage with new audiences, perhaps furloughed staff would be willing to volunteer or those without work looking to keep busy or gain new skills for their CV. Ultimately it will be a balance, so the benefits of opening must outweigh the risks.

Finally, there may be some charity shops that are just not profitable enough to reopen and any charity with a commercial lease due to be renewed should think carefully before agreeing to renew it.

If you would like to discuss any of the topics explored in this article, contact Susan Robinson, Head of Charities and Not for Profit.

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