This has been a long time coming and for many of you, not surprising. I no longer shop at Value Village. Yes I loved the thrill of driving from store to store in Ottawa hunting down the neatest items for the cheapest dollar, but more and more you begin to look at the receipts and notice a trend. To be fair, I actually stopped going when they decided to change their rewards program for the what, third year in a row? Now it is the least rewarding, having to spend too many dollars to slowly add up to a 30% discount that seniors get every Tuesday.
For a “for profit” company masquerading as a charity, that brings in over 1 Billion dollars a year, I feel my dollars can be better spent elsewhere. There appears to be a ricochet effect in Kingston in the last 20 years with regards to thrift stores. In the beginning it was Salvation Army and Goodwill. Sure it wasn’t the cleanest, but the prices were so low you couldn’t possibly argue. I would load up baby clothing for my dolls at a steal of $1 per grocery bag full at the local Neighbourhood Sharing as a child. Once I started high school, the only time thrift was mentioned was Value Village – a place my mom wrote off early on as being “too expensive”. Well, looks like she was right.
Emma Mckenna wrote an excellent article called Selling the Poor: The Politics of Value Village. Here is a passage I find most relevant:
I have complained in person and in writing to the manager of this particular store, only to be given the corporate line that, “As a store we place over 10,000 items to the floor daily and 95 per cent of the items sold are under $10.00.” Anyone who’s shopped at Value Village knows this is clearly not true, with regular products priced upwards to $25.00. And these are not exceptional or “high quality” products. In fact, the idea that a “high quality” item should be priced higher is dubious; wasn’t that product donated in order for a low-income person to have access to it?
Having worked for so many years in consignment I have heard both sides of the equation. First you have the very wealthy individuals who rotate their expensive closet frequently and aren’t looking for a cent in return, they just want the items to go to someone “in need” that otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity. Secondly you have the other working women that believe they should make top dollar on their mistakes, expecting to receive the money they spent originally back from consigning. And thirdly, you have the average Joe who is happy to get a little money back from selling clothing but will turn right around and put that money back into more thrifted or consigned items.
As lovely as the thought of donating to charity is, we are now in an age full of scams, spammers and thieves. Shelters are frequently abused for their charity, offering individuals a refuge but also access to endless quality donations by honest people for the taking. This isn’t a “need” its a “want”. Value Village is not a whole lot different. People donate under false pretenses, thinking that VV actually supports their “non profit partner” Cerebral Palsy. I spoke to a employee of St. Vincent’s (similar to Salvation Army) one day and they were pushing me to give them more bags of donations as Value Village pays them by weight. Clients had previously asked us why their items ended up at Value Village instead of a proper charity… problem is, they didn’t want product, they wanted cash and VV was the only place that would consistently offer them some. The dollar amount is unbelievably small as I learned from a few fundraising programs in the past year that were working with VV to generate funds from donation drives. They brought countless garbage bags full of clothing, box after box of household wares and tons of furniture, only to receive just over $100 in cash.
Value Village was always the most expensive “thrift” shop. For awhile in Kingston, it was one of very few options we had that were open after daytime business hours and on weekends. I will admit I spent a few years only shopping there as it was the only place I could go on Sundays or 6:00pm on a weeknight. Real charities are usually run with volunteers, who aren’t there evenings and weekends. I then cut back to only shopping on half price days or if I was desperately looking for something and had a 30% off coupon from donations.
Even with donating unwanted items – large garbage bags full – I might only receive one stamp on a card towards that whopping 30%. The card itself says 2 grocery bags equals 1 stamp. Well I can tell you from the weight, 1 garbage bag is way more than 2 small grocery bags! However that’s neither here nor there. The pricing above everything else is where my experience went sour.
I saw a beautiful pair of Miz Mooz in my size priced at $59.99 that sat on the shelf for several weeks. I went in the night before a half price sale and saw them still there, super excited, I decided to go in right as the doors opened to snatch them up. They were gone. Dang. A week later I was exchanging a few things that didn’t fit and suddenly they were back on the shelf same as before marked down to $49.99. It got me reflecting on other half price sales and I realized that they change their pricing based on upcoming sales. They pull items off the floor for sale days so they can get top dollar. They’re pricing Walmart and Dollar Store brands for MORE than the new product is retail. I’m sure you’ve seen their sticker with $4.99 over top of a Dollar Tree $1.99 sticker!
I feel cheated by them. I feel angry when I walk through those doors – especially after they’ve moved their small baskets between the exterior doors… which means if you walk into the store and realize you need a small cart or basket, you have to walk way around through the cashiers and back outside, just to come back in to grab a cart…?! The last time I went in, I did a quick loop and found nothing $10 or under as they claim 95% of the store is – the rest looked like someone had a bathroom emergency all down the front of it. Why bother?