The modern day Op Shop

In between foraging for edible weeds, vacuuming and other riveting household chores, I volunteer at a well known chain of op shops.

Back when I were a young lad, op shops were not a place you wanted to be seen by your friends, as it would be all round school that you were a ‘bin scab’. Nowadays, however, scoring a vintage/retro find at your local oppy is something to be proud of, they have become a new source of cool for fashionistas from Frankston to Brunswick and everywhere in between.

However, with this new found status comes a downside. Are the op shops of today actually supporting and helping the very people they were initially created to assist?

As I was pricing some clothing last week, I noticed an A3 poster attached to the table at which I was working. On it was a list of every designer clothing brand that you could think of. From Armani to Zoo York, the store is expected to increase the price of those goods, compared to a similar product from Target or K Mart. When I saw this, my 2 brain cells rubbed together, and began to question the morality of this procedure. Surely the initial purchaser of the product has already paid the premium attached to a designer product? If it is donated, in good faith, to assist those in our society who need extra assistance, is it ethically right to continue putting a significant markup on the product, compared to a ‘lesser’ brand? How can a product that is deemed to be ‘better’, by virtue of the name on the label, continue to be more expensive when it was donated at the same time as the one from a chain store?

I understand that of course the sales generated by the store will make their way through the grinding wheels of charity and hopefully assist the people that need help most, but over priced Tommy Hilfiger shirts, that STILL can’t be purchased by those in need, doesn’t actually help the man on the street, in need of clothes today.

Most of the brands in the store, of course, aren’t high fashion. They are mainly the standard surf brands, fitness brands and chain store brands. But even within these names, there is a league table. A Nike shirt has more kudos than a Slazenger one. Quiksilver boardies will be more sought after than Body Glove. A Sportsgirl shirt is a good find, but trumped by an Esprit one. So even when faced with ‘normal’ clothing, the ‘nicer’ brands still scream “See, even when we’re cheaper you can’t afford us. Go find the Best & Less aisle”.

I was arranging the men’s suits in the store the other day. Having purchased suits in the past, i do know how much they are in the shops. Picking up a decent one for less than $500 is a fair challenge. In my local op shop, there were suits ranging from $50 – $129, depending on condition, and of course, brand. In my naive opinion, how do these prices help a bloke who is struggling to pay the bills, turn up in a presentable manner at a job interview?

Don’t get me started on the sought after homewares. You know, the stuff that is always tagged with retro or vintage in the eBay adverts. I can kinda get my head around that stuff being more expensive than its less expensive brethren, after all, no-one really needs a 1984 Tupperware water jug, when a plastic one from Target does exactly the same job, and of course, we can use exactly the same argument for expensive v. less expensive clothing. No-one needs a brand name shirt, but I do feel for the kids that pick clothes off the rack, only to be told by mum that she can’t afford it, just because the jeans have a fancy name on the back pocket.

So, what do you think? Are op shops pricing out the vulnerable and in need, or is it good marketing by the charities?

Let me know your thoughts



3 thoughts on “The modern day Op Shop

  1. Kelly November 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm Reply

    Hi Ross! Thanks for a great post, you raised some really great & valid points. I volunteer at an oppie too and am often perplexed by my manager’s ask to ‘hike’ up prices – on some brand names which really don’t deserve such a high price tag. But having said that, these items still get sold. Someone still purchases them. So I guess there is a demand – someone will always be able to afford the asking price. Oppies have really become trendy over the past few years (haha, I laughed at ‘bin scab’ that’s so what we said too) and I guess you’re right in saying that it is clever marketing by the charities themselves – and I agree that some of these charities are definitely targetting a different demographic. Having said that, all the retro and vintage stuff I’ve collected still *generally* tends to be cheaper than dedicated vintage & collectable shops. My thoughts are that while some of the bigger named op shop organisations are perhaps travelling down the trendy road, I still love that I still always come across smaller, locally run op shops that do what op shops were created to do, truly help the disadvantaged. Cheers! Kel 🙂

  2. Kelly November 14, 2012 at 12:16 pm Reply

    Hi Ross! Thanks for a great post – you raised some really relevant and valid points. I volunteer at an oppie and am often perplexed by my manager’s request to hike up the prices on certain items – esp on brands that don’t necessarily deserve the price hike. But these things get sold – someone always buys them. So I guess there is a demand out there, regardless of pricing. I agree, I think some of the larger type charities are definitely changing and targetting their marketing towards a different demographic, possibly because oppies are now quite popular and again, there is the demand. I have to say that while I definitely notice upped prices in some op shops, my vintage & retro purchases are *generally* still cheaper than dedicated vintage and collectable stores. I guess being that op shops are on my radar, I am always impressed and pleased that for every ‘well known’ op shop, I always come across a more smaller, locally run oppie that truly caters for the disadvantaged; and the prices are definitely within reach of these people… Unfortunately they just don’t have the $$$ to be able to get their names out there – it’s more word of mouth I guess. Anyways, I’ve probably rambled enough! Thanks again for a great read. Kelly 🙂

    • rosko001 November 15, 2012 at 11:30 am Reply

      Hi Kelly. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I believe you’re right in that the ‘independent’ op shops appear to be more similar to the op shops that we remember when we were younger, and perhaps where the bargains can be had. I noticed the other day, in the staff room at my op shop, there was a new poster on the wall, instructing staff how to upsell to customers (e.g., do you need a handbag/scarf etc. to go with that dress/jacket). Perhaps the wheels of profit and pressure sales have now even reached the humble charity store!

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