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Ethics and op shops / thrift shops
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Arapiles .
(Arapiles) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Ethics and op shops / thrift shops on 01/25/2008 22:38:55 MST Print View

I've been around TLB and then here since the late 90's. Over that time I've seen a lot of threads that go like this:

"Hey! I was just down at my thrift store/goodwill store/op shop/etc and I got an X for 50 cents! They're worth $100 usually! Cool/score/rad/etcetc!"

You then get other people chiming in with congratulations or lamentations or other boasts of things gained for a fraction of what they're worth.

Not once have I seen anyone say "but if it's worth $100 and it works, why didn't you pay them, say, $20 or $50?"

Remember that these "bargains" were usually sourced directly from a volunteer run charity shop supporting a good cause. If they only charged you 50 cents it's probably because they don't know the true value - but you do.

Does this attitude reflect wider society - "there's a sucker born every minute/them's the breaks or even just "tough" - or is it that UL bushwalkers are particularly willing to take advantage?

Judging from the response to the REI Ethics thread the attitude described above is clearly not universal, which is heartening.

Your thoughts?

Arapiles .
(Arapiles) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Ethics on 01/26/2008 00:18:54 MST Print View

"Hmmm, well, if you're going to go down that road, how then you might as well take on the original prices that the manufacturers' ask for, especially for stuff made by a company like Patagonia that touts itself as being "ethical", but which asks for absurd prices. First you have to look at how much it costs to actually produce such gear, then look at the ethicality of what is an acceptable rate for pricing and making a profit, and finally at the ecological footprint of producing anything that doesn't directly benefit the environment and at the same time the monetary cost of getting rid of products that have become trash. Few companies think beyond their products going out the store door; most certainly not at the cost of destroying, reducing, or recycling all that garbage."

Hi Miguel

I don't think that follows and it's not what I was suggesting in any case. The point is that there's a certain amount that something second hand is worth to you or someone else. That's the whole point of eBay. The posters I'm talking about are bragging about paying LESS than that price. But who's being ripped off? Patagonia? No, because they got paid retail or wholesale or near to it by the original owner/donor. The people who are being ripped off are the charities running the shops people are buying this stuff from. What I find astonishing is that none of the posters seem have any qualms about that. And for the record those posters aren't reacting against consumerism, they're actually revelling in it whilst trashing the charitable impulses of the original donors. For example, in the original thread someone boasted about picking up 12 stoves - why? In practical terms what is anyone going to do with 12 stoves? If you're going to say "strip them for parts", then surely just one or two stoves would do?

How did our societies get to this stage of selfishness and greed?

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Mixing Bargain Hunting and Charity on 01/26/2008 11:11:46 MST Print View

I bet Bill and Melinda Gates love a bargain just as much as I do. I mean, we all love a bargain, right?

When questioning the ethics of a bargain hunter -- how do we know that hunter isn't also tithing and volunteering time for worthwhile causes?

I suppose one can purposely overpay at a thrift shop as a sign of financial support... but bargain hunting and charity giving are often two different mentality -- the "ying and yang" of the human psyche?

Edited by ben2world on 01/26/2008 14:23:38 MST.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Mixing Bargain Hunting and Charity on 01/26/2008 14:48:36 MST Print View

I'll only add that at least in the States, these items would otherwise have ended up in a landfill somewhere. IMHO *any* product reuse is a win-win, whether it's been discarded by the original buyer or remaindered by a manufacturer or retailer.

Our consumer-driven society.

Edited by halfturbo on 01/27/2008 18:52:51 MST.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
I have no issues with it on 01/26/2008 16:05:29 MST Print View

Why? I donate lots of stuff to thrift stores. And I shop at thrift stores. They have priced these items to move, not clog up shelves! Hence why one can go to a thrift store and find books for 25 cents to $2 that you might pay $5-10 elsewhere. And it makes sense: they'd rather see turn over of items than have it clog up the shelves for a year for a buyer that might pay more.

And don't underestimate the stores....some of the big chains of thrift stores sell online as well in auctions with pricey items. And or have a high end store with designer items.

Gail Lusk
(AlohaTink) - F

Locale: In the Middle of No Where!
Not all Thrift Stores are created equally... on 01/27/2008 11:21:53 MST Print View

quote:I've seen quite a few threads like this over the years here and on TLB ... if these thrift stores are like ours then they're run by volunteers for charities supporting good causes.

Good point...but not all thrift stores are for charities.
For instance here we have one called Savers.
It is strictly ran like a retail store, with paid employees and not always a good bargain. Lots of times "Ross for Less" (outlet store) is far cheaper where purchase new products, not used!

Saver's buys it items from Big Brothers and Big Sisters...then resell for a profit!

So is essence it did help out the Big Brothers and Big Sisters when it first purchased the items for resell.

We do have a few Thrift stores ran by volunteers, but if you offered more than was priced for the item, they are not authorized to except! Instead you are told to just donate your items you no longer wish to have.

I personally think this is a cultural difference, and not one of ethics! Now you can blast me too lol :D

Colleen Clemens
(tarbubble) - F

Locale: dirtville, CA
variances on 01/27/2008 12:19:18 MST Print View

thrift store pricing is all over the map here in SoCal. secondhand shopping is a game of chances and i've certainly bought stuff at what seems like a fair market price and then what seems like "almost stealing" prices. sometimes i only discover at home that a critical piece is missing or that a zipper jams constantly. then you have the stores that seem to have no concept of what stuff retails for and ask more than what the stuff went for in the first place - such as our local St. Vincent de Paul, which asks ridiculously astronomical prices for furniture and salvaged light fixtures, but does have fine prices for clothing and household goods. and most places have a "no returns" policy, so caveat emptor.

at our local Goodwill, prices are non-negotiable. i've never tried talking a price up. Sarah makes a good point - they want the stuff to sell. it gets sorted, it gets priced, they want the money, i pay what they ask. they select what they think is the nicest stuff and put that in the "collectable" display and ask higher prices. but that altimeter? sure, they could have priced it higher, but that means risking that it won't sell right away.

i donate over 10% of my PRE TAX income to charitable endeavors, including my church, Ronald McDonald House, and Heifer International. i buy almost all of my clothes and my family's clothes at local secondhand shops. this last Christmas, 85% of our gifts were secondhand. i wrapped them in gift bags sewn from fabric remnants or recycled fabric (from clothes) also purchased at thrift stores. i put A LOT of money into these stores. i even buy furniture there as much as i can. i've been waiting for YEARS for the right couch to show up secondhand. when it shows up i'll pay whatever they ask for it.

sometimes you get a deal. sometimes you don't. and just because something is valuable to us, doesn't mean it's valuable to 99% of the shoppers there.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Ethics? Please. on 01/27/2008 13:08:15 MST Print View

I heard some silly stuff in my life, but this takes the cake. You walk into a place of business, they have an item priced at $1.99, you pay that and go home. There are no ethical issues. It is simple supply and demand. One of the biggest draws to getting people into thrift stores is the possibility of a bargain. The idea that someone is being unethical for patronizing these stores and paying the labeled price is simply preposterous.

It does keep stuff out of the landfill, provides the poor with a source of decent clothing, especially the working poor, creates a lot of jobs and supports a number of organizations that provide services for the blind, developmentally disabled, and so on.

Keep in mind these are not small storefront operations run by volunteers supporting PAWS or similar organizations. I'm talking about 75,000 square foot stores in old grocery store locations with six check-out lanes and a large parking lot. These are multi-million dollar operations with 20+ employees each . In particular, Value Village (same owner as Savers) is a for-profit business that buys donations from NPO's by the pound and sells them in their stores. The one in the Capitol Hill district in Seattle occupies the old REI headquarters store and has three floors of merchandise.

And there is a side of service that goes with it-- waiting in lines that would be considered too long in "regular" stores, cashiers that are always in training, no warranty, no cash refunds, or as-is sales, and the items can be perfect or have all kinds of flaws. So you are inspecting everything with the idea that it is there for a reason and you need to discover what that reason is. You could get home and find it doesn't work, has a flakey zipper, a hole you didn't notice, smells like the cat used it for a litter box, or is a counterfeit (North Face is rampant). There is risk and reduced service that balances the possibility of a bargain.

Edited by dwambaugh on 01/27/2008 13:09:11 MST.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Translation on 01/27/2008 17:00:14 MST Print View

I think that most missed the point that Arapiles was commenting about stores that are run by charities and not the run for profit "recycling" shops you are talking about. To an Australian a "thrift store" or "goodwill store" is a not a businness but the kind of place where well meaning old ladies volunteer their time . We call your type of store "secondhand" or pawn shop. The latter is often a "legalized" way of selling stolen goods. ( just stand around and notice how the "owners" often don't match the type of goods they sell to the shop)
So we have a different sense of humor and different terminology .

Adam Kilpatrick
(oysters) - MLife

Locale: South Australia
Re: Translation on 01/27/2008 17:45:32 MST Print View

Yep, I definitely think there is a translation issue here.

Another point though, of course, is that while things in the "goodwill store" may be alot cheaper than they are worth, this often also helps out members of the community that can't afford to pay full prices for things anyway. Half my clothes, particularly my working clothes, come from these stores...because I can't afford to buy new outfits elsewhere all the time...Id rather spend it (when I can) on fancy outdoor gear...

In Australia, when pawn stores or second-hand dealers buy from thrift stores and sell them at their own stores for more like their real value, they usually end up being found out and broadcast as the dregs of society on current-affairs shows on prime-time TV. It just isn't acceptable to society here at all.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Translation on 01/27/2008 18:13:17 MST Print View

Franco said, "We call your type of store "secondhand" or pawn shop"

The large scale thrift stores are nothing like pawn shops, but there are for profit second hand stores and they buy from thrifts and yard sales. The thrifts are quite aware as they have buyers with sales tax exemptions all the time.

As far as the volunteer run shops, there are a very few. Children's Hospital, the American Cancer Society and one animal welfare organization have shops in town, but they are eclipsed by Goodwill and even St. Vincent de Paul.

Don't kid yourself that these outfits aren't aware of the items that come through. Many have locked cabinets with the really choice stuff and appropriate pricing. Some run silent auctions too.

All these organizations run color-tag weekly specials at 50% or 99 cents to help clear stuff out. They really do get more than they can sell--- or the items have less demand. I can't imagine how many tee shirts are reprocessed, bundled for industrial rags, or palletized and shipped off to the third world.

I get the 99 cent fleece and send it to the CYO summer camp my son works at so the city kids have something other than cotton to wear. I wonder what the corporate expenditure on fleece promotional gear is. I do the same with polycarbonate water bottles.

Just as a point of interest, Goodwill is selling on the Web now and they have yearly auctions for the really choice stuff. Salvation Army has been running local weekly auctions for business-oriented donations.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Nothing Lost in Translation That I Am Aware Of... on 01/27/2008 23:42:05 MST Print View

Thrift stores here in America mean not-for-proftit stores that sell donated goods (mostly clothing, but also books and small appliances). They can be of any size staffed by professionals and/or volunteers. Goodwill, the Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul Society are 'famous' for their thrift stores.

I rarely shop at thrift stores, but again, as I posted up above, I see nothing 'unethical' at all about paying the prices as tagged or posted.

Edited by ben2world on 01/27/2008 23:44:45 MST.

Arapiles .
(Arapiles) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: Ethics? Separated by a common language? on 01/28/2008 03:11:00 MST Print View

Thanks Franco


"I heard some silly stuff in my life, but this takes the cake. You walk into a place of business, they have an item priced at $1.99, you pay that and go home. There are no ethical issues."

In Australia the "thrift stores" (we call them op shops) are usually staffed by volunteers and are purely non-profit, e.g. St.Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army and dozens of others anywhere they can get a shop-front cheaply enough. So what I'm talking about aren't businesses (although in point of fact the bigger ones do have commercial operations, but the money they make's not for lining a shareholders pockets - it goes back into homeless shelters, refugee advocacy, supporting drug programmes, emergency housing etc.).

If the places that you guys are referring to are always purely businesses then that changes the situation. Like pay-day loan businesses, I'd see them as exploiting the poor and vulnerable so, to that extent, they're not victims if they misprice something.

What is not clear from your post is if the "for profit" thrift stores also support social programmes?

p.s., some of the US pay-day loan sharks tried to set up business in Melbourne's poorer suburbs using a legal loophole - the loophole was closed as quickly as possible.

Edited by Arapiles on 01/28/2008 03:14:25 MST.

Arapiles .
(Arapiles) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: Not all Thrift Stores are created equally... on 01/28/2008 03:13:25 MST Print View

Dear Gail

"I personally think this is a cultural difference, and not one of ethics! Now you can blast me too lol :D"

I shall spare you my righteous wrath on the basis of cultural difference.

Colleen Clemens
(tarbubble) - F

Locale: dirtville, CA
just for clarification's sake on 01/28/2008 09:45:45 MST Print View

I can only speak for my area, but we have both thrift shops that are run to raise funds for social programs (Goodwill for the mentally disabled, Salvation Army for recovering addicts & homeless, St. Vincent de Paul for general poverty, Deseret for job training and teaching self-sufficiency) and thrift shops that are apparently set up for profit. These are nothing like pawn shops. Some "antique shops" are really not much more than fancied-up thrift shops, with much higher prices since the dealers there theoretically know the value of an item.

the problem? all of our local antique shops are going out of business, because the dealers are consistently asking too much for their "valuable antiques." our thrift shops are bustling and doing fine business. Goodwill just remodeled. so my guess is that they are doing fine and are happy with their current pricing strategies.

one "caveat emptor" story: at st. Vincent de Paul, i bought a wool rug. it was rolled up and i had two small children "helping" me shop, so i dragged it up to the register without unrolling it all the way. it was 50% off day and i was willing to gamble on it since the price was so cheap. well, the old biddies volunteering at the store decided that there was no way "such a fine rug' should be priced so cheaply and insisted that the price was wrong. they had it dragged to the back, re-priced it at double the original price, and then offered it back to me. i said fine, as i liked the colors and was in real need of a rug. then the well-meaning old birds got huffy when i reminded them that they still needed to take 50% off the new price.

then i got it home and unrolled it, only to be greeted by the overwhelming odor of cat urine. plus the fringe at one end had been cut off. so after a few hand-scrubbings, sprays with febreze, and a number of days out in the sun, i got the smell out and finally had a rug for my bedroom floor.

what's my point? thrift-shopping is a crap shoot. sometimes you get a steal, sometimes you get ripped off. take the low prices when they come, gamble when you feel lucky. am i unethical when i buy two beat-up old chairs for $5 that, after i put a lot of work into re-finishing them i'll be able to sell for $100+ each?

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: just for clarification's sake on 01/28/2008 11:08:58 MST Print View

I think the Aussie's don't quite understand the difference between thrift stores and pawn shops here in the US.

Pawn shops: they tend to sell easy to turn over items of value, be it jewelry, electronic gear, guns, etc. They tend to small and often do payday loans now days.

On the other hand, thrift shops as noted tend to be in old grocery store buildings these days. Some are for profit, some non profit. I try to shop at non-profits, and these big ones such as Goodwill are making a profit - and employing people. Even the small non profits pay for their help! Why shouldn't they? That is part of the whole concept: get people employed! Where I used to live the non profit often had people serve community service by sorting the donated goods. It was a win-win deal for everyone.

And why shouldn't the non profits pay their workers? Why should they have to rely on volunteers? It is good to see people learning job skills and getting ahead.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: just for clarification's sake on 01/28/2008 11:45:44 MST Print View

If you read Arapiles' original post -- Aussies and Yankies are definitely talking the same thing!

Why are people muddying the discussion with "pawn shops"?

The spirit of the question is clear -- and I am not even an Aussie! When you walk into the likes of a Goodwill or Salvation Army or St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop -- is it ethical to pay the tagged price when you know it is "ridiculously low" compared to retail?

I think people are free to answer "yes" or "no" (my answer was "yes") -- but I detect that some folks are needlessly trying to soothe their own conscience by dragging in pawn shops, "antique" shops and other for-profit businesses!

Hey, maybe buying low at those places are OK, umm, is that what you Aussies really mean???

C'mon. The question is simple and straightforward. Just answer it, people!

Edited by ben2world on 01/28/2008 12:25:29 MST.

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Ethics and op shops / thrift shops on 01/28/2008 11:59:36 MST Print View

I dont get the point of this?
If thats your attitude the only ethical thing would be to walk in and write a check not expecting anything in return. Even volenteering would be questionable, I mean mabe you should get a real job and hand over all your earnings to them insteed of particapating in somthing less helpfull like clerking for free .
The deals are what make them famous, take that away its just another pointless buracratic exercise in 'charity" thats better skiped.

Edited by MAYNARD76 on 01/28/2008 12:25:44 MST.

Colleen Clemens
(tarbubble) - F

Locale: dirtville, CA
one last stab on 01/28/2008 13:05:58 MST Print View

i hope this does not come off as angry and strident. it's meant in the spirit of discussion.

i am a stay at home mom in one of the 10 most expensive areas in the USA (coastal southern CA). i make economic sacrifices, some of which include secondhand shopping, so that i can do this and still set money aside monthly for the future. am i poor? no. can i afford to buy a house? no. i'm decidedly middle class, and feeling all the economic threats pointed at my situation.

where does my obligation to others end? should i stop going to garage sales because i'm "stealing" deals from those who are far, far poorer than i am? should i go to Walmart and ask to pay higher prices, since their super-low prices contribute to the low wages and laughable benefits provided there? I'm already trying to opt out of the ultra-cheap Made In China juggernaut, which means my firsthand buying gets really pricey.

i give my useful but no longer needed things to the thrift stores so that they can re-sell them for money. i can't even calculate how many items i have given. many are items i purchased there and ended up not wanting to keep for whatever reason, which means they have then sold that FREE item at least twice now. how much money have i helped them make over the years?

what's the tipping point? when do i stop being frugal and become an almost-thief? i support the goals of these organizations, i buy at their stores instead of buying new stuff. i happily pay my taxes (which by the way constitute about 30% of our income) in order to support the society around me.

so now i'm unethical because i got a good deal? here's the truth: 99% of my fellow thrift store shoppers don't want an altimeter, or a nearly-new z-rest, or a fancy-pants breathable rain jacket. they want a working watch, a bed frame, and something that will keep the rain off as they get to work. their holy grail may be a cool painting, an obscure old book on carpentry, or a pretty purse - something valuable to them, but not necessarily to me.

i have my own family to take care of. i have kids to feed and dress and put through college and maybe help buy a house someday. i do this by saving money when i can, and by paying full price when necessary (for my oh-so-ethical organic groceries).

am i derailing this? my answer is that i do not feel bad at all when i get a smokin' deal at a secondhand shop, whether it's a non-profit or not. i don't think it's unethical. i pay what they ask.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Re: Ethics and op shops / thrift shops on 01/28/2008 13:37:05 MST Print View

Brian and Colleen:

Refreshing to see folks answering the question -- yay or nay -- without trying to "do a Clinton". :)

Thus far, the responses -- to the extent they answer the question rather than muddying it -- is unanimous: paying the cheap tagged price is ethical!

Edited by ben2world on 01/28/2008 14:03:45 MST.