In the last ten years there has been a significant increase in the number of charity shops in Britain’s high streets. The Charity Retail Association (CRA) estimates there are now nearly 10,000 such shops. This has come about because charities have found many people prefer to donate in kind, rather than with money, whilst the move to out of town shopping has lowered the cost of leasing retail sites in town centres.
But this type of retailing is different to typical retail operations in two ways. First, the stores are largely operated by volunteers – the CRA estimates there 213,000 of them. Although the larger stores have professional managers, many are run entirely by these volunteers, most of whom work on a part-time basis (which is why there is an average of 21 volunteers per store). This clearly presents a challenge in terms of training staff and ensuring consistent standards are maintained. Second, stock and inventory is donated by the public, quite often directly to the stores themselves. This means that inventory control is a challenge, along with secure cash handling.
One company that recognised this was eproductive, an early adopter of cloud computing – in 2000 – to provide business solutions. Working with one charity they developed an inventory management system, which has now grown into a range of other cloud-based systems to enable the charity to effectively work with its volunteers, increase gift aid donations, and manage its presence on the web.