Tales from an Op Shop Volunteer


You may have noticed that I love to shop.  In particular, I love op shops (and markets and outlet centres and garage sales).  I volunteer one day a week at my local Red Cross – and have lots of fun!

But … you may be surprised at what goes on in op shops!

Come with me for a little sneak peek behind the scenes!




Some people wash, iron and fold the carefully selected clothes they donate, and politely hand them to the staff at the counter, folded beautifully into a designer carry bag.  We adore these people.

We had one expat couple recently who were moving overseas for work in a hurry and donated the entire contents of their kitchen, including a fridge, outdoor furniture, designer clothes, shoes and jewellery, plus all their linen and boxes and boxes of books.  They even donated a box of stationery and a printer that they thought could be used in our back office. How lovely.  Every single item was washed and ironed, despite them having a week to pack up and move countries.  Truly gorgeous people.

However, there is another type of donation we receive.  A rubbish bag stuffed to the gunwales with dirty, holey, ripped, torn, faded and smelly clothes, mouldy shoes and handbags, and old tea towels.   Unfortunately, this type of donation cannot be used.  It will make its way to the main sorting warehouse where it can be sold on for rags, but it creates a lot of extra work for op shop staff.  Not to mention deeply unpleasant.  Would you want to touch someone else’s dirty clothes?  Especially their knickers?  Thought not!

As a long time op shopper, I appreciate good quality donations because it means lots of lovely things for me to buy.  As an op shop volunteer, good quality donations are appreciated because it means we can make more money for the charity, which is, after all, the point of an op shop.





Oh, the tales that go on about op shop pricing!  You will be pleased to know that there is a standard pricing guide for clothing items.  When we get very special pieces in, such as a Trelise Cooper silk party frock or an Oroton handbag, we draw on our fashion knowledge, sometimes with the aid of Google, to work out a suitable price.  As the purpose of op shops is to raise money for the charity via retail sales, it is our responsibility to make sure the pricing is fair and reasonable and adjusted for items.  Charging the same price for a designer silk frock and a chain store polyester frock just doesn’t make sense.

I had a particularly interesting op shop experience recently – one customer insisted that a gorgeous brand new American designer silk party frock in absolutely mint condition was overpriced.  She was quite belligerent and kept insisting that we obviously didn’t realise we were a charity and that she was a poor student.  Unfortunately, our charity is not to support poor students who want designer frocks for a knockdown price.  It is to sell the donated items at the best price we can get for them (which is always well below RRP and very good value) to raise money for the charity.  I politely directed her to the rack of $10 dresses, which was stocked with quality high street labels, but no go.  She wanted the expensive frock for a bargain price or nothing.  She left without the frock.

Another customer was quite vocal in expressing her opinion that she didn’t know that a pair of Country Road pants, as labelled on the swing tag, were actually Country Road as we had cut the labels out.  She loudly expressed her disappointment at this fact and couldn’t understand why we would do something so ridiculous.  The Red Cross is lucky to have an exclusive relationship with Country Road, who donate excess stock to the Red Cross.  The labels are cut out so the items can’t be bought from an op shop and sold for a much higher price on eBay as current stock, or even returned to a Country Road store for a refund.  It happens.  They’re protecting their brand.  As they should.  Luckily, I was able to show her the Country Road embossed button and she was happy.





Most op shops are staffed by a combination of volunteers and paid staff.  The volunteers are good enough to give up their own free time to work at the shop for nix for a variety of reasons.  Some because they want to help their community, some because they just love clothes, some because they enjoy helping people, and many other reasons besides.  They are all lovely people whom I enjoy working with.

I’m constantly horrified by people who speak rudely or impatiently to shop assistants, who are only trying to help them, whether it is a high end boutique or a supermarket.  To my mind, doing so in a charity shop to volunteers is beyond the pale.  It isn’t necessary to be rude to anyone, let alone a volunteer who is helping to raise money for charity.

It is also worth considering that staff product knowledge in an op shop will not be the same as your average retail store.  Think about an environment with incredibly high turnover like a charity shop.  It is rare for there to be multiples of the same item.   The staff may only work once or twice every fortnight.  It is unrealistic to expect them to know the location, size and brand of every item in the shop.  Yet customers frequently do expect exactly this.

The ones who ask if we’ve got this exact item in a different size or colour?  Yup.  It happens.  Very, very occasionally we get a bulk lot of donations from a particular store or brand and are able to fulfil this request.  Most of the time?  Not a chance.



I am a huge fan of op shops.  I love the thrill of the chase, the buzz of getting a bargain, and knowing that I’m finding pieces that aren’t exactly the same as everyone else will be buying in the chainstores.  Finding a well priced mint condition vintage piece is my Holy Grail!  I absolutely love the experience of volunteering at an op shop.  It gives me the opportunity to interact with some lovely people, thank people for their donations and contributions to charity, assist people with styling, dress the window displays, arrange and price stock, as well as work with a gorgeous team of lovely ladies.  It also gives me great material!

Do you like to op shop?



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