The Checkout Charity Trap

Jonathan Offt - Checkout Charity TrapAsking for donations at retail checkout counters is becoming an increasingly common trend, particularly during this time of the year. Research indicates that such drives, although not a major contributor to driving up sales for a retailer, is not altogether a wasted effort. Most of it depends on the category of the donation and also on the execution strategies employed.

Perry Yeatman, in his article for, says that generally, charity at checkout does not tend to increase spending more or enable the customer to warm up to the retailer. Sometimes, quite the opposite may happen when people feel somewhat ambushed by the expected pitch when they have their wallets already open. Most people feel guilty and awkward with people standing in line behind them within hearing range and end up donating to something they probably weren’t even listening about until the registrar asked for money. A little resentment towards the retailer after this socially-awkward interaction is therefore, warranted.

Nowadays, people are more deeply involved in charitable givings than ever before. People tend to research thoroughly about the cause and the organization before fully committing and such surprise petty pitches on something they may not even be interested in is rarely welcomed. Besides, as more retailers adopt this method, making it a regular check-out custom, people will eventually learn to be indifferent and simply say no without second thoughts.

Nonprofits need to focus on demonstrating value to attract a well-informed and motivated donor base to ensure recurring or at least, heavy donations. The ‘Impact per dollar’ knowledge helps the donor understand how their money will be used and makes them more inclined to whip out their wallets.

Short-term techniques like checkout charity will only create short-term donors. Economist James Andreoni, explains that people do not only donate to affect change, but also to feel positive about themselves afterwards. Impulse charity like checkout charity leaves the donor feeling confused, which is not exactly a desirable first impression on the people you want to keep dedicated to your cause.

Nonetheless, checkout charity is gaining popularity because of how simple it is to implement. The retailers appear generous to the customers without having to invest anything in the charitable cause. For retailers who choose to host checkout charity, the least they can do is make sure it is a charity that resonates with the customer on some level, even if it is something as simple as asking donations for underprivileged children in a toy store checkout instead of asking donations for cancer research. Relevancy is the key.