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Online charity shopping: a bridge too far?

22 Sep 2010 Voices

Are charity retailers trying to run before they can walk by launching online stores? Civil Society's new charity shop blogger Debbie Attwood offers her thoughts on the unusual tack.

Debbie Attwood, author, That Charity Style

Are charity retailers trying to run before they can walk by launching online stores? Civil Society's new charity shop blogger Debbie Attwood offers her thoughts on the new tack.

When I started That Charity Style, my challenge of only buying charity shop clothes for a year, I learned a lot more than I thought I would about charity shops and the clothes they sell.

A real surprise was that some had online stores. I can't quite decide if this is a good or a bad thing...

While some only have gift sections, others, such as Oxfam have online clothes shops as well. But does this take away the spirit of the act?

Charity shopping has undergone a revolution - now becoming more acceptable than ever, with the rise of the vintage era and people craving that individual look. When once you felt as if you were doing the charities a favour by buying tatty second hand clothes, now you feel as if they are giving you something, an individual style at an amazingly price - a unique look - something money apparently can buy!

With this shift in opinions the experience of charity shopping itself has become something of an occasion. I personally love going in and having a good rummage, feeling like I have achieved a personal goal and found a gem that so many others have failed to spot. With online shopping, some of this, I feel, is lost.

Although in all charity shops a careful selection process is applied, the clothes are gone through, maybe washed, and labels attached by the volunteers and staff, the illusion for the buyer is still there. The customer, largely unaware of this process is left with the satisfaction of believing they have found the amazing designer coat or vintage belt completely alone and no credit shall go to anyone else.

With online stores this is taken away. There's no rummaging, no wandering, no sense of how the item will work. Alot of the clothes only really work when you can feel the quality of the fabric and see the fit. Sometimes I buy clothes ten times too big for me because I can see it would make a great oversized jacket and that will look good – online I wouldn’t go near the wrong size because I couldn't picture what it will look like. In normal online stores you wouldn't head to the wrong size section so why would you here?

Of course the online stores bring the clothes to a much larger market but I feel it takes away some of the experience and of course takes away some of the best clothes from the shops themselves - why, when the market is at its peak in high street stores?

Of course, it's early days. Right now the statistics aren't available. Online charity shops may reap the rewards and this is, after all, what charity shops are about. And I may change my mind and find I love the online experience once it becomes more engrained in my psyche. But for now, I think I will stick to instore rummaging.

Debbie Attwood is author of That Charity Style, a blog documenting her year-long quest to only buy charity shop clothes