Charity shops are a brilliant pace to bag a bargain and help a good cause at the same time – but what’s it really like to work in one?
From books to bags and bric-a-brac, one person’s rubbish is someone else’s treasure.
And it’s the job of a loyal team of volunteers – usually overseen by paid managers – to sort through it all and sell it on the pre-loved frontline.
Like any job in retail there are ups and downs, with the customers being both the best and worst part of the job.
We spoke to volunteers at shops across Merseyside to find out the strangest donations they’ve had, the things that really annoy them, and the extra lengths they’ll go to if you’re nice to them.
This is what they want you to know about working in a charity shop:
1. Some people have donated dirty underwear
Some people don’t care what they donate to charity, as long as it’s out of their house.
One volunteer said her shop had received donation bags with used and dirty underwear and nappies.
Another shop said they’d even been sent the contents of someone’s rubbish bin – and one unlucky volunteer opened a bag to find it filled with vomit.
Other people use a donation bag as an excuse to have a clear out of their kitchen cupboards.
She said: “We’ve also had ancient tins of fruit and tins of hot chocolate mix with a best before date of 1992.”
2. “It’s cheaper in Primark”
People are regularly disgruntled by having to pay the price on the tag, seemingly forgetting their money is going to charity.
One volunteer said: “They’ll say it’s cheaper in Primark, usually while holding up items from M&S or other expensive labels.”
3. “Can I have a discount?”
Volunteers say they are amazed by how many customers want a discount, justifying it by saying the goods were donated and didn’t cost the shop anything.
One thing they hear a lot is “Can I have a discount? You get it for free anyway”.
Others will claim “It was on the sale rail” when a shop doesn’t have one, then ask for a discount anyway, “as a gesture of goodwill”.
4. Some customers assume volunteers are stupid
This one REALLY gets on the nerves of our volunteers.
One said: “People will assume volunteers are stupid because they don’t get paid, but they come from all walks of life and backgrounds.”
Charity shops aren’t immune from shoplifters – and people try all sorts of devious tactics to leave without paying or pay less than the price on the tag.
Some will change price stickers and one thief even left their old, tatty shoes on the shelf – walking out with shoes they hadn’t paid for.
As one of our insiders puts it: “Theft is theft even if it’s charity. Yes we know you’re doing it and we will judge you!”
6. Haggling and people who won’t pay the full amount
One worker tells of a woman who bought clothes coming to a total of £25.05 – then said she didn’t want to pay the 5p because she had “already spent enough”.
Other people are just on a mission to get something on the cheap, even when it’s already cheap.
A Wirral-based volunteer said: “We don’t mind haggling if there’s an obvious problem with the item but otherwise you’re just taking the mickey and trying to deprive the charity of money.
“We are there to raise as much money as possible for a cause and not to help you get it on the cheap.
“I’ll get asked ‘How much is this shirt?’. I’ll point out the label that says £2.99 and they’ll say ‘It can’t be that much, I’m not paying that’.
7. Be nice to the volunteers
As with anything in life, if you’re nice to people, they will want to help you.
One volunteer told us: “The best volunteers know where everything is and what stock we have, and we will notice things in sorting that our regulars might like and put them aside for them.”
If you’re after something in particular they’re the people who can tell you when the shop sends on old stock and puts out new goods – so mind your manners.
8. People will buy anything
People LOVE a bargain and it’s amazing what customers will buy (that’s suitable to be sold).
You might not think there’s a new home out there for your nan’s hideous old tea pot with photos of cats on it, but as one of our insiders says: “People will buy anything – as long as it’s priced and packaged and displayed the right way.”
9. There are perks for volunteers – but they’ve earned them
Charity shops are always looking for more volunteers, whether you’re a student adding to your CV, retired, or just have a few hours’ spare and want to show your support.
One volunteer said: “Volunteer yourself! Yes, we get first dibs sometimes and in some stores a discount.
“Some customers don’t like it, but people are working for free and copping abuse regularly – we’ve earned our perks.”