For those of a certain age, your initial introduction to the charity sector was quite possibly the rather genteel ‘totaliser’ on Blue Peter and the ‘bring and buy’ sales. For those a little younger, it was a big hairy Irishman shouting ‘give us your f***ing money’ – and ever since, the record, the relief and the fundraiser have been an integral part of our culture.
There are now around 200,000 registered charities in the UK and, rightly or wrongly, we’ve developed a dependence on the sector, particularly when it comes to the provision of social services.
The charity retail sector continues to grow and according to the Office for National Statistics was largely responsible for the 1.5% growth in spend at the end of 2017. However, the outlook for retail is mixed and some feel the charity retail sector and its preferable business rates contribute to this uncertainty.
Developments in technology, changes in demography and their combined impact on consumer behaviour are all going to make an impact. So how does this triumvirate of challenges play out by 2044?
Here are four predictions:
- No high-street takeover
Despite the idea that the high street of the future might be populated by charity shops and hairdressers, this will not be the case. It is simple economics. Charities are likely to get less favourable trading conditions in the future if their presence detracts from corporate profits. Their footprint will not be large enough to enable councils to make the rent they need. It is more likely that, as with many smaller retailers, they will come ‘in-house’ under bigger outlets, such as Tesco.
- Clicks and mortar
As with much of retail in 2044, browsing will be more common in the online space, with retail outlets offering a place to collect physical goods, try some new stock and generally experience the brand in more depth. In-store, expect wall-mounted displays for shoppers to browse online, live video feeds to showcase the charity’s work, and electronic donation points alongside the traditional bin.
By 2044 the personalisation of the products and services we consume will be ubiquitous and it will be no different for the charity sector. Consumers will want direct contact with their chosen charity and a say in the work it does and the content it produces. Fundraisers may well be out of jobs, as consumers look to take more control of their charity donations. As a result, expect charities to adopt online crowdsourcing techniques to address specific cases within their broader issue portfolio.
- Increasing commerciality
Strongly linked to the growth in disintermediation and challenging high-street trading conditions will be the increasing levels of marketisation adopted by charities. The charity ‘brand’ will be a major part of fundraising focus, as corporate funding and other commercial partnerships become completely acceptable within the sector.
So what will the charity marketer be tasked with?
- Balancing marketisation with compassion
Finding the messaging sweet spot that appeals to both consumer empathy and CSR (corporate social responsibility) alike will be a critical success factor for charities at this juncture. What constitutes a charity will arguably have changed both in opinion and legislation. Charities will be firmly in ‘the business of doing good’. For the retail outlets that are encased within larger zones, the need for strong branding and messaging will never have been more important.
- Delivering a modern retail experience
As the retail world moves towards more of a blend of click, mortar, experiences and VR (virtual reality), so the charity retail sector will follow. Retail outlets will offer a brand experience that brings the consumer closer to the end product. E-kiosks and video walls that you can buy from and donate to will form part of the in-store experience. VR browsing and shopping offers charities opportunities to extend their geographic retail footprint.
- Embracing new technologies
While delivering a modern retail experience will be a hygiene factor, there are a number of other technologies on their way and by 2044 the sector will need to have embraced them.
By 2044, the millennial generation will be at their earning peak, so any technology employed will need to ensure it delivers the customer-centric experience they will demand. Charities must examine how they harvest and use customer data to ensure personalised experiences. Gartner predicts that by the year 2020, 30% of web-browsing sessions will be done without a screen. By 2044, then, it is highly likely that conversational commerce will be a primary channel for retail. Investing in technology infrastructure to harness this will be critical to success.
Whatever the future does hold for the charity sector, its nature, shape, regulation and delivery of service is going to change a lot in the next 25 years. Expect charities to resemble commercial organisations whose pursuit of income will be just as competitive.
Charity retail will also need to adjust to the inevitable consolidation of real-estate ownership. Their high-street presence is likely to become part of a bigger picture in which the outlet model prevails. No less important, though, will be the need to deliver a modern retail experience within those constraints.
On a final note, working for a charity in the future will no longer be an ‘act of charity’. And about time.
The River Group is a 24-year-old, full-service content marketing agency based in Marble Arch, London. In an age of content spam, we don’t add to the noise, we make lean content designed around a simple consumer/brand value equation. Our content combines the new science of digital media and the old artistry of storytelling. We produce content for web, social and print, to address hard-nose marketing objectives for 18 clients including Holland & Barrett, Co-op, Superdrug, BBC Worldwide, Princess Cruises, Cunard and Ramblers. We have 104 staff and work across 18 international markets and billings of £15million.