Rónán Ó Dálaigh on Thriftify’s plans to digitise charity shops

Podcast ep 30: Rónán Ó Dálaigh of Thriftify talks about building a sustainable business and digitally transforming the charity shop sector.

In the early summer of 2020, when the initial Covid-19 lockdown was in full swing, online shopping suddenly soared in Ireland. As well as success stories like Buymie which raised funding and created jobs, another innovative e-commerce start-up called Thriftify was making waves too.

Compiling a list of 24 firms that were transforming online shopping, ThinkBusiness found that Thriftify was uniquely focused on the charity shop sector. It had partnered with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland and expanded beyond selling books, CDs and vinyl into fashion items as well.

“We have a one-in-20 chance of extinction as a race driven by climate change. Business as we know it is going to have to change fundamentally and forever”

At the heart of what Thriftify is about is its online sales and supply chain ecosystem that through the use of barcodes creates a digital ecosystem that lets shops sell stock online but also take ownership of items it wants  to sell online or on premises.

Driving the sustainable future of business


“There are about 15,000 charity shops in the UK and Ireland and about 50,000 to 60,000 in the US. So it’s a massive market,” says Thriftify’s Rónán Ó Dálaigh.

The Eureka moment for Ó Dálaigh came one day when he bought a reasonably new book in a charity shop for a couple of Euros and out of curiosity looked it up on Amazon and discovered that brand-new it was worth €60.

The idea never left Ó Dálaigh and after a few stints in fields like events management he finally created a team that could build the technology behind Thriftify.

“We started out very simply with one charity shop just to test it out and now we’ve grown to a team of 11 people full-time and we’re working with over 90pc of the charity retail sector and every major charity shop in Ireland. Everything that’s in a charity shop you can buy on Thriftify.”

The clever thing about what Ó Dálaigh and his team are doing is they are supporting good causes by bringing them into the digital age but also promoting sustainability.

When ThinkBusiness spoke with Ó Dálaigh he was on the cusp of launching Thriftify into the UK with on of the biggest charity retailers in Europe.

Cleverly, Thriftify helps buyers to source unique and rare items rather than going down the route of fast fashion.

“We feel the big opportunity for us is sustainable fashion. The retail environment has been changed completely because of Covid and online is the new retail space.”

The onset of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown in March turned out to be the catalyst for Thriftify to shine.

“I remember that week in March where everything shut. We thought it was game over and all of our operations basically shut down. And then a week after that we really got the sense that our charity partners were starting to panic because suddenly their retail operations, which were bricks and mortar, were shut off.”

To survive many businesses such as coffee shops were opening Shopify accounts just to sell coffee through a window.

“Everybody was transitioning online and you had this massive industry, thousands of shops with no opportunity to sell anything. And so I think the timing for us was really good. We had been looking at fashion and that was the main thing we wanted to do. The challenge was tech and the operations for it.

“We were doing it very slowly, we were already testing it and piloting it, looking at camera-scanning functionality, barcode automation.

“We paused everything else and just directed the entire team to focus on getting fashion ready because that accounts for 70pc to 80pc of the charity retail sector’s sales.

“We launched really quickly and now it is actually growing and is by far the biggest aspect of what we are doing.”

The difference between Thriftify and many tech players is the company has built its system to account for the “lowest common denominator” in terms of the level of technology that is available to charity shop workers. The system allows basic smartphones to point the camera at any barcode and the system does the work, putting the items online for the charity shop to get the benefit of the sale.

The disarming thing about what Ó Dálaigh and the Thriftify team are about is they are doing what they are doing to make business sustainable, it is not about profits or getting rich.

“My background has been in social entrepreneurship and the voluntary sector, with a little bit of activism. I’m very aware and conscious of what is happening with climate change and with our environment. And the reality of what is happening and what scientists are telling us is we have a one-in-20 chance of extinction as a race driven by climate change.

“Business as we know it is going to have to change fundamentally and forever.”

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 22 September, 2020