Brilliant: Oxfam’s Shelflife and giving objects a story

Want to see the cutting edge of retail storytelling? Head over to one of the Oxfam charity shops in Manchester, according to a BBC News report.

A project called Oxfam Shelflife is allowing people who donate an item to a shop to tell buyers a little bit about it, whether its a quirk of how to use, a little bit about its history or a funny story.

It’s powered by Tales of Things, a joint project between several universities.

We think this is brilliant in all sorts of ways.

First up, this is a great way of adding value to things that would often been seen as having little or no value. Unless they are forgotten fashions being hoovered up vintage shop owners, charity shops are the end of the road for consumer goods. Or the last stop before the dump. But in attaching something of the owner to them, they can become more interesting, desirable, useful…

Like Guy Kawasaki says, its all about making meaning…

Quoted in the BBC article about this project is the director of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Awareness at UCL

“We want to make every Oxfam shop into an interactive social museum,” said Andrew Hudson-Smith […].

“Second-hand goods are essentially meaningless, but when they are tagged we give them meaning,” he said.

Next, it isn’t often that charity shops are in the vanguard of retail innovation. But why not?

It seems to be part of a wider movement of digital innovation coming out of not-for-profits. Reminds us of amazing projects like Sidekick’s Buddy app where innovative tinkerers from the world of digital are out there doing good deeds…

Lastly, it connects with the idea of the everywhere web, that we’ve been talking about for a while: the idea that the web becomes a layer over the world, allowing us to see more, understand more about the physical things around us.

On that last point, it seems eerily akin to the Hiut Denim story that I wrote about on my personal blog. Hiut’s founder, David Hieatt…

….painted a picture of someone in San Francisco 10 years from now buying a pair of secondhand Hiut jeans. They would be able to access the “history” of the jeans, by scanning the “History Tag” with their smartphone.

Where Oxfam is innovating around retail of products that already have history, David’s working with products at the beginning of their life, but imagining them having a long and useful life.