Erm, please someone explain, why might it be immoral…?

… to buy something in a charity shop, then sell it on at a profit?

It’s a discussion I was having with my elder daughter this morning, and have had with others online over the last few years. Once or twice things have got quite heated. Why do some people feel that we are somehow cheating the charity, if we’re paying the price they are asking for an item? Most of them are pretty savvy these days & aren’t likely to sell an original Picasso for the same price as a fake Constable print in a plastic frame. I will only buy stuff in a charity shop (thrift store, to our American cousins) if I actually need it for myself or our home, OR if I’m certain I can at least double my money on it. But that doesn’t actually mean that the charity could have got twice as much for it, and I’m cheating them. Nor does it mean I’m doubling my money with each purchase.

For a start, many of the things I have picked up from them over the years have needed work put into them to achieve the higher price. They’ve needed cleaning, servicing or mending, maybe some parts supplied & fitted. Clothes may have needed a bit of surgery; for example, a 1970s Lurex jumper is actually more valuable without its sleeves at the moment, as the students like to wear them as tunics, with a belt. For another thing, part of my expertise, such as it is, is knowing what my customers are interested in & will buy; charity shops by & large are very general, selling a bit of whatever comes in in saleable condition, but a large proportion of their stock is of no interest to me & my customers whatsoever. You have to hunt quite hard for “treasure” and be prepared to pass by a lot of dross on the way, although one man’s trash is, of course, another man’s treasure. So part of my “mark-up” is because my customers, by & large, don’t have the time to hunt through twenty-odd shops for one piece of genuine 1950s fabric for their vintage caravan renovation project. But they know they will likely find 4 or 5 pieces to choose from on my stall. One or two of those may have been picked up in charity shops, but the rest have come via car boot & jumble sales, house clearances and other contacts, so that’s another reason why I am not just a parasite leaching money away from charities; they would never have seen a penny of the money for those pieces in the first place. And some of my stock is bought from charity shops that have failed to sell it in the time they allow things to be “on the sales floor”; at least they are getting something for it from me, and usually a fair bit more than the ragman would have given them.

I have expenses I need to cover, too. Stalls don’t come free, and people are often shocked when they find out what the stall fees are; yes, it does cost more than a car boot pitch, or a table-top at a school sale. This is because the organisers will have expenses they need to cover too, like staff, proper advertising & rent. I use fuel to find stock and more to get it to where it needs to be. My washing machine uses energy & consumables and I go through coat hangers, safety pins and even price labels at an alarming rate. So it’s not just a matter of buying something for £1 at Oxfam, carting it off and selling it on for £2 at Molly’s Den or Boscombe Vintage Market.

Can someone please explain to me why people get so upset about the idea that I can buy something in one place and sell it on at a profit in a more appropriate place, if there’s a charity involved? I would not take the bread from the mouth of a starving child to sell it, as one slightly hysterical online commentator once accused me of; it doesn’t seem equivalent at all to me, but am I missing some important idea or concept here?

4 thoughts on “Erm, please someone explain, why might it be immoral…?

  1. Colleen P. November 19, 2013 / 6:27 pm

    I don’t think you are doing anything immoral at all-you are essentially taking usable goods to the consumer most likely to purchase them. At the very worst your are a facilitator-you are, quite literally, facilitating reuse and recycling of usable materials. You did, after all, purchase the item at the price the charity shop was asking-if they thought they could get more, they’d have charged more, and it is not your job to go through their goods and tell them how much it’s worth, nor do they hire people for that purpose. They sell on what they get, in order to raise money for charity. I don’t see how the charity is shortchanged by this in any way, nor do I see any reason that your particular knowledge of the market you serve takes away anything or causes any disadvantage toward the charity you purchase from. Why should you not benefit from your own hard-won expertise on textiles?

  2. Christine Fox November 19, 2013 / 9:18 pm

    I can’t see any difference between buying materials in a charity shop and buying them in any other shop. No-one moans if you buy wool from a wool shop, knit it into a hat and sell the hat.

  3. Spinningfishwife November 20, 2013 / 7:58 am

    The charity shop puts a price on it and offers it for sale, you pay their price, they’re happy, the item is then your’s to do with as you wish. What is the problem? You’re the one putting the added value onto it re cleaning, etc as you say. I suppose if you did buy a £500,000 pot for 50p it might be nice to give a donation to the charity but for a £1 item you’re selling for £2? You’re not working for charity after all, it’s your living. Would the original commenter prefer you sat around on your bum as a “benefit scrounger”, as the good old Daily Fail would say? I think your critic is perhaps living in a nice little bubble of not quite the real world here, one where she doesn’t have to pays bills etc from her own efforts. Maybe she could do a few hours a week in a charity shop herself to make up for your immoral profiteering. 😉 Yes, next time you encounter such a prson ask them how many hours a week they spend working for charity, or what percentage of their income they donate per month.

  4. Retrowren November 24, 2013 / 10:20 pm

    Just ignore them, and put it down to ignorance on their part! Honestly, some people have nothing better to do.

    What you (and myself and many thousands of other people) are doing is totally honest, above board, legal and totally moral!

    Let em moan my lovely , and don’t fret about it. X

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