This also ensures that a store always looks fresh and alive – especially important in fashion, where customers tend to be frequent shoppers.
It’s often forgotten that the same discipline needs to be exercised by consumers; few people apply such rigour to their everyday lives. More often than not it is not having the space or the hassle of getting rid of an existing item, that provides the excuse not to buy.
At least food consumers have an automatic discipline – they get hungry and, in any event, food is perishable and carries a sell-by date. For many non-food products, there is no discipline and it is all too easy to defer new purchases.
In this context, I was struck by the potential commercial value and wisdom of Sir Stuart Rose’s January addition to his Plan A at Marks & Spencer. I refer to the marketing initiative launched with Oxfam – essentially a clothes recycling scheme aimed at reducing the 1 million tonnes of clothing sent to landfill each year.
Individuals who donate unwanted clothes to an Oxfam branch receive a£5 M&S voucher in return. The vouchers are valid for one month against purchases of M&S non-food products worth£35 or more. Each bag of clothes donated must contain at least one item of M&S clothing (however old). Underwear, hosiery and socks are excluded for obvious reasons.
While open to a level of abuse and a potential administrative nightmare for individual Oxfam shops, it ticks important boxes. It underlines M&S’s green credentials – and I’d guess there is a large overlap between the traditional M&S customer and the typical active Oxfam supporter. Most importantly, it motivates customers to be “open to buy”.
However, putting on one of my other hats as a non-executive director of Trinity Hospice Shops, I must see Stuart’s initiative as a competitive threat in a difficult environment.
You open a shop, people give you things for free and you sell them – what’s so difficult about that, I hear you say? Fair enough, but it’s still retail, which involves attention to detail. And, as an operator of 20 shops in Central and South London, occupancy costs are onerous and finding good store managers is tough.
Charity shops generally have seen the price deflation in clothing – allied to the value fashion culture engendered by the growth of Primark, Matalan and the like – reduce the quality and value of goods donated. Online, eBay has creamed off more readily saleable items – a sad reflection, perhaps, of today’s culture, substituting greed for charity.
Trinity is the UK’s oldest hospice and, having to find more than 60 per cent of its income from voluntary contributions in order to continue its support for 2,000-plus patients each year, would welcome approaches from other retailers, whether in the form of mutually beneficial marketing initiatives, merchandise or space.
By JOHN RICHARDS, Retail consultant, Landsbanki Securities