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Overcoming Inventory Obstacles: Dealing with Donor Fatigue and Declining Quality

by | Mar 14, 2024

The thrift shop is one of the most unique types of stores in the retail industry. As such, these stores face some of the most unique challenges. Thrift stores are dependent on donated items from people within the community, which means there may be times when inventory is lacking. 

Donor fatigue for thrift stores is a big reason for these inventory obstacles. Donor fatigue  happens when people either get tired of donating their goods or simply run out of things to donate. This leads to decreased sales, fewer satisfied customers, and a shortage of quality items in your store. 

If you’re one of many thrift store owners struggling with a decline in the amount and quality of donations you’re receiving, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll discuss how to overcome these obstacles by building donor relationships, finding new donors, and implementing quality control measures. 


Understanding Donor Fatigue 

Donor fatigue is a very real problem that most thrift store owners will face at one time or another. Two things happen when there is donor fatigue: 

  • You receive fewer donations because people are either tired of donating items or no longer have items to donate. 
  • You receive fewer quality donations, which means you won’t have as many top-dollar items for sale. 

Both symptoms of donor fatigue can have a detrimental effect on your thrift store. They both lead to lower retail potential, which means fewer sales and a drop in customer satisfaction. 

Potential Causes of Donor Fatigue 

Several things can lead to donor fatigue, including the following:

Economic Factors 

Perhaps the most common cause is when there is high inflation, low employment, or when the economy is otherwise suffering. When people have to pinch their pennies, they buy fewer new things and try harder to make what they currently have work. 

In other words, rather than buying a new couch or TV and donating their current one, they will hold onto it until they can afford a new one. The same goes for clothing, household items, kitchenware, and everything else you would typically sell at a thrift store.  

Saturation of the Resale Market 

With the increasing popularity of thrift stores and consignment shops, the resale market is more saturated than ever. As such, there are more places where potential donors can send their goods, which could mean fewer items for you. 

Changing Consumer Behaviors 

In addition to people being tighter with their money, there’s also a higher emphasis on eco-friendliness than there used to be. This means that people are holding onto their belongings for a longer period of time before donating them. Unfortunately, that results in fewer quality donations, since what they’re donating is well past its prime.  


Building Donor Relationships 

While increasing the quality and quantity of donations at your store may be difficult, it’s not impossible. There are several things you can do to keep the donations flowing, regardless of the economy or other outside factors. 

The best way to prevent stagnating donations is to build and strengthen donor relationships. Remember, as a thrift store, you depend entirely on people donating their belongings out of the goodness of their hearts. Therefore, it’s essential to keep your current donors happy and continue to strengthen your relationship with them. That way, they remain loyal to you and don’t start donating to another thrift store in the area. 

Maintaining a steady stream of quality donations is essential for you to maintain your store and accomplish your store’s mission. While thrift stores can be either non-profit or for-profit organizations, even many for-profit thrift stores donate generously to good causes. The only way you can continue to further your mission, however, is if the donations keep coming. 

If you’re struggling to maintain strong donor relationships or to build new ones, here are a few tips that may help. 

  • Hold customer appreciation days where you recognize and reward loyal donors. 
  • Host benefit days where you offer free food and beverages to anyone who shops or donates at your store. 
  • Offer exclusive discounts to loyal customers to keep them shopping and donating at your store.


Diversifying Donation Channels 

In addition to strengthening your current customer relationships, you may need to think bigger and broader. By increasing your community outreach and dipping into new donation pools, you can increase your number of donors. 

A great way to increase your outreach is to post signs and flyers in communities where you don’t have many current donors. There’s a good chance that people in these areas don’t even know your thrift store exists or that you’re looking for donations. 

In addition to posting signs and flyers, it’s also beneficial to partner with local churches, businesses, and other organizations. These entities are always looking for new nonprofit partnerships. They can spread word to their customers, members, and partners. This will also help increase their donor pool. 

Finally, it’s important to remember that the modern world lives on social media. As such, one of the most effective ways to reach new customers is by being active on social media. Instagram, Tik Tok, Twitter, and Facebook will allow you to reach the most people with the least amount of effort.


Educating Donors on Donation Standards

Once you’ve broadened your donation channels, the next step in strengthening your thrift shop is to ensure you receive quality donations. It’s all too common for people to use thrift stores as a garbage site rather than for its intended purpose. 

To ensure this doesn’t happen, it’s important to post rules and standards so that people don’t donate things you can’t use. It’s also important that any employees who receive donations understand these rules and don’t accept items you can’t resell. 

Your quality standards should include requirements for cleanliness, condition, relevance, and age. In addition to posting your standards at your store and drop-boxes, it’s a good idea to post them on your website and on social media, so that people know your rules before arriving at your store.


Implementing Quality Control Measures

When assessing whether donated items can be accepted, staff and volunteers should be trained to pay close attention to damage, relevance, and quality. If customers donate unsellable items after hours or at unmanned drop-boxes, there’s nothing you can do to reject them. Therefore, it’s important to know what to do with unsellable items when they arrive. Rather than moving them into your store or warehouse where they’ll take up valuable space, have a plan in place to dispose of them right away. While throwing them away may be the only available option, some areas offer clothing recycling, a more sustainable solution.


Improving Merchandising and Pricing

It’s important to remember that just because you receive an item doesn’t mean you have to sell it. Rather than flooding your store with items you’ll never be able to sell or sell for very little profit, improve your merchandising strategies and pricing tactics. This is where thrift store inventory management comes into play. 

Prioritize displaying and selling items that are popular in your community and that you know are hot items. You can put a loftier price tag on items that are popular, in good condition, and in high demand. For this reason, it’s never a good idea to use broad-sweeping pricing tactics. Instead, price each item individually, so that you can request more for certain items than others. 

Be sure to place your best items prominently on your shelves for all to see. As items are getting phased out, move them to less obvious places and lower the price tag accordingly. That way, you keep things moving and making way for fresh, high-quality donations. 


Seeking Community Support and Collaboration

Regardless of what you do, it’s important to do it with your local community. After all, you likely wouldn’t have a thrift store if it wasn’t for donations and assistance from your community. By generating awareness of your thrift store mission, goals, and needs, you can strengthen your community relations and get great donations along the way. 

In addition to partnering with your local community, you can also partner with other nonprofit organizations in your area. These partnerships could lead to more impactful donations, boost volunteer engagement, and increase customer satisfaction. Together, you can help one another mobilize members of the community through events like donation drives and overcome donor fatigue. 


Final Thoughts 

While donor fatigue and a decrease in quality, sustainable donations are very real threats, you can overcome them. Having high standards, developing solid donor relationships, and facilitating community collaboration are the keys to thrift store sustainability and success. You’ll also need to be proactive when pursuing new donation channels, teach your employees pricing strategies and which donations to accept, and implement thrift store inventory management practices. 

Integrating an all-in-one point-of-sale software will simplify the process of inventory management and make running your store easier. ThriftCart’s point-of-sale platform can help you overcome obstacles and find greater success.

Learn more about our all-in-one thrift store POS system. Request a demo today!

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