Volunteering is something I have always enjoyed – when I was a MA student, it was an activity I could benefit from in various ways – gain new skills, make friends, keep my mind busy and block out negative thoughts – and it always worked. I met one of my best friends while I was volunteering with the British Council – we bonded through our mutual hatred for carrying very heavy boxes! I also had the opportunity to see the Guardian offices at Kings Cross and meet people who work there. London has a varying volunteering scene and the possibilities are endless. There is always something to learn, someone to help, something to contribute that you have knowledge of.
Saturdays are my resting days – and I do not negotiate that. But Sundays have become my productive days – properly and fully rested, I am able to give and contribute. So I started volunteering at the charity shop of Royal Trinity Hospice on Putney High Street.
It is a cozy but amply sized shop with clothes for both men and women, bric-a-brac, CDs, DVDs, books and lots of other bits and pieces that Putney residents so generously donate. The amount of donations they receive is quite impressive and I’ve been a witness of that myself; items that are barely used, and some still in their original packaging. This gives us the chance to price them higher and earn more money for Royal Trinity Hospice.
I came in for till training two weeks ago. I was terrified of the till but I now realise how silly I’ve been; it’s only a series of steps and a lot of ‘ok’ messages to go through. The shop manager was really helpful and friendly and I owe a lot to her. She made me feel welcome, wanted and useful and thanked me multiple times for all my help as this gave her the chance to sort out donations.
I rather enjoyed making sales for the store, as these sales fuel the great work they do and of course pay the wages of the people that work there full time.
I was also keen on observing customers. I soon realised that clothes were the most attractive items in the store and women would patiently go through each and every item. Most of the clothes were brand new or otherwise in pristine condition, and very sensibly priced. Off the top of my head, both Sundays I was in, most of our sales came from clothes.
A lot of customers who go in hold bags from British Heart Foundation and the other charity shops on the high street. This means that second-hand/charity shopping is actually a dedicated activity-and why not? A lot of the stuff in these charity shops is much better than the overpriced bric-a-brac you’d find in John Lewis.
Some customers have the habit of asking for discounts or better prices just for the sake of it, even if the item in question is in pristine condition. This made me feel awkward a couple of times and the Shop Manager came to the rescue and informed the customers that no discounting is to be made unless the item is partly damaged. There is a piece of paper on the cashier’s desk explaining that we need every penny we make and that customers should refrain from asking for discounts, yet they seem to ignore it. I always feel bad when I have to remind people that it’s a charity shop not a business.
So working behind the till is a position that makes me feel confident about my sales skills, allows me to observe customer behaviour and see what brings in most of the sales. It is also lovely to talk to people and help them pick a nice gift (as Christmas period draws closer, the shop will inevitably get busier). I look forward to learning more and become more skilled in retail sales!