It’s been a bit of a bone of contention lately, eh? You may have noticed murmurs of all persuasions going on around the blogging traps. It’s a tricky subject. On the one hand we have charities who have every right to get the best buck for their wares and on the other we have op-shoppers crying out for the ye ole cheape oppe shop of yesteryear. In the middle of this muddle there is an elusive concept of fair and appropriate op-shop prices… should such a thing even still exist!
Prices have gone up, a lot. And some of us are feeling a little unsettled by it. If we are to talk about op-shop prices and have an informed opinion on the subject then perhaps we should put the whole issue into some sort of context. This post is a meager attempt to do just that. There are no solid conclusions offered here, merely a glance at some things that we should consider when entering this debate. Here are a few points for consideration.
The times they are a changin’
In my childhood I remember op-shops as places that offered affordable clothing and goods for people in need. Indeed there was a stigma attached to having to shop there. Op-shops had a dual purpose, to service this section of the community whilst also raising money for their own charities. Today things are little different. Op-shops are a cool and more mainstream place to shop. Whether rich or poor, fashion challenged or a fashionista, op-shop customers are more diverse than ever before.
There are many things that have renewed the popularity of op-shops – “retro revival”, an increased awareness of sustainably and contentious consuming, plus the growing number Australians facing cost of living pressures looking for alternative and more affordable places to shop. In response op-shops have smartened up in order to meet the demands of their changing audience. They’ve also smartened up as a deliberate strategy to capture more of the consumer dollar, which helps to offset the challenge of fighting for limited donation dollars in an increasingly cluttered charity sector.
Retro revival in particular has lead to an increased value of vintage goods. Vintage retailers have sprung up all over the place and in the early days routinely raided op-shop stores to stock their own. The old junk at the op-shop suddenly had real monetary value. When op-shops caught on, the china and jewelery moved into locked glass cabinets and designer label clothing moved onto special racks. With an increased societal value for vintage goods came an increased monetary value, and op-shop prices changed accordingly. Why should retro resellers profiteer while op-shops miss out?
It costs money to make money
The costs of rent and utilities is much higher than it was 10 or 15 years ago, so on the basis of pure economics, regardless of the role of retro revival and all that other stuff, to expect the prices of op-shop goods to be the same as they were a decade ago is simply unrealistic. I Love to Op Shop recently posted an excellent account of the costs involved in running an op-shop. As that post clearly demonstrates it costs big bucks to run an op-shop (as it does a commercial shop), and although we need to keep in mind that op-shops are there to raise money for their respective charities that benefit people in need, these facts ought not make us lurch towards making the act of questioning op-shop prices a taboo. There is room for a sensible discussion about this issue.
Loosing their appeal?
My concern is this – if op-shops continue to increase the price of their goods to the point at which they are equal to that found in boutique vintage stores, the unique character and quality of the op-shopping experience could be lost. Op-shops are distinctive in the retail landscape, and part of their distinctive appeal, in addition to the goods they offer, is the affordable prices at which these goods can be acquired. If prices are perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be too much, op-shops risk loosing their distinct character and becoming viewed simply as any other second hand store. This may be an “inconvenient truth” for those op-shops who wish to price their items like a boutique retro store, but affordability is part of the op-shop brand and this is unlikely to change anytime soon.
The relevance of affordability to the appeal of op-shops is evident in the post and the discussion that followed Are Op-Shops Getting Too Expensive? by Phoebe of Lady Melbourne, in which she highlighted the massive discrepancy in op-shop prices that can be found, using two op-shops in Hampton as an example. The post was met with a healthy discussion (worth a read!) from readers where it was suggested that younger op-shop staff might tend to overprice. Some were critical of op-shop pricing and said they shopped less as a result, where as others cautioned against such criticism due to the financial pressures op-shops face.
Perhaps I am overstating things here, but if we’re already hearing people say that they shop less at op-shops these days or don’t bother shopping there at all anymore because the prices are no longer that different to anywhere else, then maybe in some cases the prices are too high? This is possibly more indicative of the inner city than the suburbs, either way, it suggests that for these folk at least the distinctive appeal of the op-shop has already been lost, or at least has become more mixed.
Finding the right balance
One commenter on the Lady Melbourne post I just referred to, Bonnie Friday, captured the mood towards op-shop pricing as follows: “..isn’t the whole idea of op shops to both create revenue for charities AND provide affordable alternative clothing options?” It’s that dual purpose thing I spoke of earlier. Where as previously the balance tipped in favor of offering more affordable alternatives to those on low incomes, it seems that now the balance is in favor of revenue raising – which is fine, but it’s clear that being an “affordable alternative” is still important to shoppers and many feel that this aspect of op-shopping, the very thing that draws them into an op-shop, is under threat.
What shoppers want in op-shop prices is an appropriate balance that respects the unique position and value of op-shops in the retail landscape and their important function as revenue raisers for their charity work. When it comes to considering whether op-shops are currently achieving this balance, we need to keep in mind that this is a period of great change for the traditional op-shop, and that change process is still ongoing. It is a difficult task to achieve the right balance between affordability and profit, as it is for any business, and while in my experience most are doing a reasonable job, it’s also the case that many op-shops are still working this balance out. If op-shops are attentive to how their customers spend their dollars in store, then this should help set that balance for them. Until then, perhaps we just need to be a little more patient or even except the possibility that there are other op-shoppers out there who are prepared to pay premium prices for desirable goods.
Do you think most op-shops strike the right balance in their pricing? Comments are open.