Is cherry picking out the nicest items by thrift store employees ethical?

I’ve been playing around at thrift stores for over a year or so, and ever so often when I go in near shift changes at the Goodwill I see the manager checking out employees with handfulls of near new items (new Nike athletic shoes in this case), that I know never made it to the floor.

Another time I was in the back of the Salvation Army warehouse having one of the employees try to find a cart for me, and there were two nice, reasonably recent model PCs on the floor and two nice monitors. I was surprised as the SA usually has nothing but the absolute most ancient doorstop crap in the way of PCs. I never saw those PCs come out on the floor. In fact most of the the SA PC crap is so old (286-486 class CPUs) I suspected cherry picking was going on even before I saw those PCs.

Is it common and/or accepted practice for thrift store employees to cherry pick the best stuff before it gets to the floor? Is it just considered a perk of working there?

My personal take is that it isn’t ethical, but I think it happens alot.
When we moved into our house, the previous owners left a lot of stuff behind. Including a Broyhill sofa and chair. The style & color were dead on '60s, burnt orange and harvest gold. But they looked brand new.
We took them to the Children’s Hospital thrift store. The woman checking stuff in was astonished at how good they looked, and '60s retro was way in. She told us to leave them on the loading dock and she’s get help moving them.
We went inside to look around. when we left she and her helper were not moving them into the store but into her minivan! I was working at Children’s at the time. The volunteers were all from the exclusive neighborhood that surrounds the hospital. I knew it was her minivan, because she told us her name, and the van had vanity plates with her name!
I wanted to stop and ask her what exactly she was doing, but Fireman just kept driving.

Why is it not ethical? Should thrift shop employees not be allowed to buy things where they work? If they are allowed, then at what point in time are they allowed? After ian item’s been put on display? (All that does is add a step between arrival of item and the item going into the employees car.) After 24 hours? (Arbitrary.)

It may not feel right to you, but I don’t see how you can make a case that it’s unethical.

I can’t find a link, but wasn’t there a scandal some time ago involving the Sallies pulling items and selling them privately? As in truckloads? Or am I thinking of something else?

Some folks think “well, it was donated anyhow, so at least someone (me) is benefitting anyway.” That’s just wrong. If the donator had wanted the item to go to a specific person instead of the thrift store, they would have just given it to them. If the employees take the items without paying for them, and before checking them in to the thrift store, that is theft.

The practice of checking an item in but not stocking it to the salesfloor, and subsequently purchasing the item without making it available for the regular customers is called “back stocking” and it is unethical even when it is not illegal. It’s certainly not ethical when the business sells donated goods. Although the purpose of many thrift stores is to use the proceeds for charitable services, part of this service is making inexpensive used goods available for their (generally) less-well-off clientelle. The item should be put out on display and the employee should be “off the clock” before they go to get it. That ensures that legitimate customers (which the employee is not when on the clock/at work) have an opportunity to purchase the item, and that the business/organization to which the item was donated actually benefits from the sale.


My sister worked at the Salvation Army store here, and yeah, it goes on.

Often, she’d set aside something for one of us if she thought we’d be interested.

I wouldn’t call it ethical, but I don’t think it’s out and out WRONG, per se. It’s one of those “perks” of working at such a place. Just like those who work at restaurants often get free food.

As long as they’re paying for the stuff, then I don’t see a problem. If they were taking them without paying for it, that would be stealing (and one of Sis’s coworkers was fired for stealing stuff and reselling them to another thrift store).

I could ask her for more details, though.
SSgtBaloo, I hate to break it to you, but a lot of the donators are just trying to get rid of stuff (a lot of it is garbage that can’t even be resold!) or to get a tax write-off. All of the money goes to charity.

Hrm. I work in a consignment store, which is a little bit different from a charity shop, and I have ever snapped up things before they hit the floor. I check them in, then purchase them, so the consignor is still getting their fair share of the money, and my size is a reasonably unpopular one, so I don’t feel I’m necessarily depriving anyone. I also try not to make a common practice of it, for the sake of my bank account as much as anything else. Still, I can see how it can be seen as unethical behavior. Should there be a scale? Is it one thing to buy a shirt that’s the perfect size, perfect color, etc, and another thing to snap up all the computer equipment you see?

I would like to say, though, that just because you never see something leave the sorting area, it doesn’t mean an employee either purchased or swiped it. I’ve been told it’s fairly common practice (at least at our Salvation Army) to let people buy things straight out of the sorting area, though they have several signs posted that say it isn’t allowed. It’s possible someone was making a dropoff, spotted the computers (or furniture, or whatever), and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

I worked for a SA store briefly after college and my manager openly allowed me to cherry-pick. This was a decade ago so I have no idea if there was a policy change in the interim but having first pick of stuff was about the only thing that made the job tolerable.

I worked at the Disabled American Veterans thrift store and employees got to pick out stuff once a week (Fridays, I think) and paid half price. We weren’t allowed to save items we liked unless it was on a Friday.

The situation gets murkier if the employees are also setting the prices on items. OK sofa that we’ll try to sell to the public? $40. Really nice sofa that I want to take home? $10. So, even though the employee may be paying for it, he or she may still be taking money from the intended charity.

I worked as a sorter for Goodwill about five years back, and setting things aside was expressly forbidden at my store. You sorted it, priced it, and sent it onto the floor. If you wanted to go out after your shift and see if it was still there to buy that was okay. What really got me though, was how much stuff they threw out. A lot of it was garbage, of course, “donated” by people to lazy or clueless to just throw it out themselves. But a good chunk of it was just very mildly damaged, or dirty, or in need of a bit of TLC and we had to throw it out even if it was something we wanted for ourselves. I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now.

I work part time at a high-end ladies consignment store specifically because I’m allowed to cherry-pick.

Trust me, if a Fendi bag comes in, it’s gone before it has a chance to hit the floor either because a staff member took it, or a particularly good client took it. (We have a call list.)

I mean, I pay for the stuff, the consigner get’s their share of the money - as a regular customer you may not like it, but…tough. I get a discount at the cosmetics counter I work at as well (which is also why I work there) - regular customers don’t get that either.

I suppose the trade off is that as the customer, in theory you’re allowed to be as rude as you want to the staff - staff have to be nice, even to the jerks but they get first dibs on the good stuff.

When a company comes out with a hot new toy comes out, do you think the CEO wrestles with soccer moms at Toys’R’Us at six in the morning so their kid can get one?

How is this much different? One of the perks of working in retail is getting first dibs. You can be damn right that whenever a rare and desirable item hits a store of any kind, the employees are going to buy it. It happens at the video store I work in all the time. It comes with the territory of having that kind of job. Some people even choose their jobs based on this sort of perk (and, of course, anyone else could try to get a job that has that perk, so it’s all fair in a free-market kind of way)

As far as I know, there is no special ethical requirement to make anything availible to the general public unless there is some kind of pressing need for it. Withholding a retro couch isn’t like withholding vaccines or something. It’s gonna get bought one way or another. And we are talking about stuff that people gave away.

At thrift stores, no matter what happens, everyone wins. The charity gets the proceeds, the workers (who are often part of a program to give job experience to the previously unemployable) get jobs, the poor get access to clothes and furniture, the rich get an easy way to dump their stuff and the environment gets less wasted resources.

I’d put it down as a benefit of working at the thrift store. I’m sure the rest of the benefit package leaves a little to be desired.

While I can certainly see the “expected employee perk” side of the issue, I wonder if customers will notice that the higher quality goods show up on the shelves at one thrift store but not at another? Do you think this might effect sales?

I can see this hurting thrift stores. I used to go to them quite a bit, but stopped because I got tired of only finding crap. Without the possibility of a good find, the store will lose customers. So sure, the good stuff is still getting paid for, but if the employees are getting them all, the regular customers will eventually give up shopping there.

So in effect, the thrift store’s employees also become a large base of their customers. As long as they are paying the same price, store remains in business even though the outside customers see mostly crap on the shelves and wonder, “How in the Hell does this place stay in business, all they ever have is crap?”

Except, the store needs to sell the good and the not-so good stuff. For that you need a large customer base so that hopefully they’ll pick up one or two marginal items along with something nice.

Wait… Reread my post. I my opinion, the woman was stealing from the thrift store. She put the stuff directly into her car. That’s not ok.

The difference between regular retail and resale/consignment/thrift is that a regular store will have multiples of everything - not one pair of those jeans, but twenty; not one copy of that hot new movie, but two dozen. If they run out, they can get more. At a resale shop, you’re not likely to get more than one or two of any one thing. So it’s more of a problem to cherry-pick at a resale shop.

The more I think about it, too, the more I think there is a scale. alice_in_wonderland isn’t necessarily hurting anyone when she snaps up that Fendi bag. At worst, her customers will have to settle for DKNY. My store isn’t nearly that upscale, but there’s still enough of the good stuff to go around, whether or not I snap up that really awesome pair of cords. It’s a different game at a charity store - they can get some really awesome things in, but most people seem to see the Salvation Army as a dumping ground for their worst things. Cherry picking can really make the difference to them. Not that a limited amount isn’t acceptable, but if all the good stuff is disappearing, it’s a problem.

And for the record, I use the same price scale on every item, regardless of whether or not I’m going to purchase it. To do otherwise would be bad for the store and bad for the consignor.