Charity shop bargain-hunting tricks

There's been a bumper crop of donations to charity shops this summer, thanks to people's lockdown clear-outs. Charities want you to take advantage, so we've rounded up our top tricks and tips to help you find the best items – including where to head for designer clobber, spotting sales and buying online.

Some of the biggest charities, including Barnardo's, The Salvation Army and Scope, have told us they've seen a massive rise in donations. In the week charity shops reopened, Barnardo's saw an increase of 40% on the same week in 2019. Scope says donations were up 40% on 2019 when shops first reopened and are still up 13%.

Of course, the aim of these tips isn't to give charity shops less money, but to ensure you can find the best stuff and track down hidden treasures – after all, charity shops want your custom. Also see our eBay Buying guide for more second-hand bargain tricks.

For inspiration, check out the long-running Charity Shop Finds MSE Forum thread. Our Forumites have struck gold in the past, bagging everything from a bargain Mulberry bag to a £5 Magimix ice cream maker. If you're a charity shop connoisseur, we'd love to hear your tips too.

Look out for de-tagged surplus stock from top high street brands

Many high street chains donate surplus stock to charity shops. Charity shops often sell these products de-tagged, to prevent returns to the original store.

So if you spot a brand new item with no label, chances are it could be a big-name donation.

It's rather hush-hush, but Javed Khan, Barnardo's chief executive, told us: "Our shops do receive items from high street and high end, sometimes designer, retailers. This includes fashion and sample homeware items. We de-tag donated items from brands if they request this, and have done this for quite a few large companies. Unfortunately, we do not have permission to name them.

"Some high street brands don't require us to de-tag items, so often there will be high street brands with the labels intact."

M&S has confirmed that it donates some samples and surplus to Oxfam, and said the labels usually stay on. 

Ted Baker confirms on its site that it donates stock to OxfamAge UK and NewLife, which sell the stock in their stores. Forumite Miro says:

I spotted a pair of new, boxed Ted Baker black leather ankle boots with tiny gold zips in my local Oxfam for £9.99! Just found the boots on Amazon selling at £256. The assistant said they had been told to expect more Ted Baker items.

Try Mary Portas' posh chazza shops for designer donations

You can save money on top-notch labels at Mary's Living and Giving shops. Retail expert Mary Portas helps run these higher-end second-hand stores for Save the Children.

There are 28 across England and Scotland, including Bristol, Chiswick, Kew and Windsor – see a full list.

It's not dirt-cheap, as staff are aware of items' values, but you can expect 'statement pieces' and designer donations. More than 400 labels donate to the shops, including Stella McCartney and Ralph Lauren.

You might even get your hands on an A-list cast-off. Victoria Beckham once donated 25 designer outfits from her daughter Harper's wardrobe to its Primrose Hill branch.

If you can't get to one, check out Save the Children's Depop shop, which also sells cast-offs at the fancier end of the scale.

Oxfam's Westbourne Grove boutique in London does a similar thing, selling some of the poshest items. If you're near Oxford, the charity opened a superstore in 2019, which is 12 times bigger than its normal shops.

Head to posh areas if you're after something flashy...

For swish bargains, head to charity shops in swanky areas, such as Chelsea in London, known for its wealthy residents. According to MoneySavers, hot spots include Bath, Brighton, Edinburgh, Oxford, Tring and St Andrews.

Forumite carriedoesn'tlivehere says Alderley Edge is a paradise for WAGs' cast-offs:

For anyone living close to Alderley Edge, south of Manchester, I can recommend the charity shops on the high street. This is THE place for designer rejects from Cheshire ladies who lunch! I've spotted DKNY, Jimmy Choo, Armani and Prada.

... or look in areas where your hobby's popular

Got a niche interest? It's worth going to areas where that pursuit is popular. If you're in the market for say, surf gear, head to Newquay or for horse-riding gear, the Cotswolds.

Music fan MSE Kelvin recommends Camden in London...

I often drop into charity shops in Camden Town for a rummage – being an area steeped in music history and chock-full of gig venues, it's great for band T-shirts and records I'd never usually expect to find in charity shops elsewhere.

Follow charity shops on social media for insider info including sales

Social media is a great way to get insider info from your fave charity shops. Many post details of sales on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For example, this month Overgate Charity Shop in Brighouse has a 50% off sale and Shelter Stockbridge in Edinburgh has a designer sale every January (and it's worth keeping an eye out for more).

Other charity shops to keep an eye on include Sue Ryder Nottingham, which often has 'everything's £1' sales, publicising them on its Instagram account.

On the hunt for a vintage Nintendo or some cool furniture? Nowadays shops often post snapshots of their wares on Facebook and Instagram as they come in. Check out Oxfam Westbourne Grove's Instagram page – recent posts include Chloe boots and an Isabel Marant jacket.

Go often – and on weekdays – to boost your chances

It pays to pop in regularly. The good stuff gets snapped up almost as it's brought out, but that same faded Atmosphere T-shirt stays on the rack for an eternity.

Weekdays are slower than weekends, so you've more chance of bagging treasure then. Popping in first thing in the morning can yield bargains too.

Charity-shop from your sofa via online outlets

These days lots of big name charities offer their wares via online outlets. Oxfam's online shop is a treasure trove of clothes, books, toys, homeware and more. You can search for your favourite brands.

Delivery is £3.95 (or more for some bulky items). It does seem to have wised up to items' values though, so true bargains may be harder to spot – but, of course, it's all for a good cause.

Many organisations now sell on eBay too, including British Red Cross, British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research. See eBay's charity shop page for more. Items can usually be delivered.

The downside for buyers is bidding wars break out over many auctions thanks to eBay's size. Most items are auctioned, but you can occasionally pick up a buy-it-now bargain – and it's all going to charity.

Get touchy-feely to check garment quality 

One of the quickest ways to sort Chanel from C&A is to feel clothes as you rifle through the rails. Of course, at the moment, you should refrain from being too hands-on with stuff you don't intend to buy, but it's still worth a cheeky feel before you part with your cash just to check fabric quality.

Go for classic items in natural fibres such as silk, cashmere and merino, which are more expensive new than synthetic. You'd be surprised how quickly you learn to find the nicer bits just by touch.

Go to specialist charity shops, eg, books, furniture and bridal – for better choice when you need something specific

Many charity shops have specialist branches. If you're doing up your pad, British Heart Foundation has 185 furniture and electrical stores across England, Scotland and Wales (not Northern Ireland). While its shops have reopened it advises to check opening hours before heading out, as some have changed.

Sue Ryder has shops specialising in vintage and retro clothes, homeware, bric-a-brac and more, as well as stores where everything is £3 or less. You can search for these online.

Oxfam is known for its fantastic book and furniture shops. Got your heart set on a designer wedding gown? It also has 12 specialist bridal boutiques which stock dresses from £30, as well as accessories, including Chippenham and Leatherhead. Forumite little_miss_sunshine was chuffed with her dress:

I bought my wedding dress from Oxfam in Leicester. No one had noticed it and it was a fraction of the cost of a new one. It was in great condition, I felt good about giving money to charity too. I also got my bridesmaids' dresses second-hand – got two lovely dresses for £50 each! 

Volunteer at a charity shop – get first dibs on stock

One of the perks of volunteering in charity shops can be first dibs on the best donations. Of course, we're not generally talking about paying less than customers, just getting to choose from the widest range of stuff. But in some cases you may get a fixed staff discount too, eg, 10% or 20%.

Get to know shop staff – they may let you in on secrets

Establish a rapport with your local charity shop volunteers. Ask them which days they put out new items and when seasonal stock will hit the shelves, for example. Are they getting any big donations from manufacturers?

If you're looking for something specific, such as a toy, it's always worth asking if they've got any out the back.

Turn your phone into a barcode scanner to find what old books/CDs etc are worth before buying

Found something in a charity shop with a barcode on it and want to know what it's worth? If it's in original packaging or just has the barcode printed on it, there's an easy trick to see what identical items have fetched previously.

Download the free eBay app, open it up and tap the search bar followed by the barcode symbol. Your mobile now becomes a barcode scanner, via its camera.

Point your phone's camera at the code and you'll see it on screen – the app will scan the code and then list identical items for sale. To see what items have fetched in the past, select the 'sold items' filter.

You CAN haggle – but whether you SHOULD is an open question

Many do report haggling in charity shops. This is more a moral decision than a financial one. Martin's view is:

This is about charity, so it's the one time paying full-price (if it's reasonable) is a good thing to do. Yet if you're on the breadline and this is your only route available, then offering to pay what you can afford isn't wrong.