“I’M STUNTIN’ and flossin’ and savin’ my money and I’m hella happy that’s a bargain, bitch,” raps Macklemore, an American musician, in his 2012 song “Thrift Shop”, extolling the virtues of second-hand shops. A number one hit the world over, the song’s music video, in which Macklemore swaggers around wearing a fox fur coat, has been viewed more than 560m times on YouTube. It may well be the most widely-seen advert for charity shops ever.
“Thrift Shop” nicely captures the growing popularity of such stores, particularly in the English-speaking world. Britain, for instance, now has more than 10,000 of them, up 10% since 2011, according to the country’s Charity Retail Association.
The number of charity shops has increased in spite of low footfall across the wider retail sector—and because of a high level of high-street vacancy rates in Britain. Figures collated in July 2014 by analysts at the Local Data Company show that one in eight premises in central shopping areas is empty. Charity shops are filling buildings for-profit stores will not partly because of an 80% business-tax relief they receive from the British government.
The British Heart Foundation, the largest charity retailer in Britain by revenue and number of shops, is expanding its portfolio, mostly on city-centre high streets. It hopes to open its 750th store soon. Net profit from the charity's £161m ($271m) in retail income was £31.1m ($52.3m) in 2013, up 8% from the year before, and more than double the value of takings when the recession hit in 2007.