Big Issue and giffgaff join forces to provide 250 vendors with refurbished phones
How Big Issue’s partnership with giffgaff is helping vendors boost sales this Christmas and beyond
by: Claire Biddles
27 Nov 2023
Illustrations by Fernando Volken Togni
The pre-Christmas period is always busy for Big Issue Group, with more and more vendors signing up to sell the magazine, and sales dramatically increasing. On these cold, dark days, we know our customers want to support vendors by buying the magazine, while also wanting it to be as quick and easy as possible. That’s why this winter, Big Issue is partnering with giffgaff to help vendors become cashless, connected and technologically confident – while also ensuring you don’t have to spend time in the cold digging through your wallet.
This month, giffgaff is providing Big Issue with 250 refurbished phones, which our frontline teams are distributing to new vendors joining us to sell the magazine. It’s Big Issue’s first ever phone partnership with a mobile network, and the first time that vendors will have access to phones equipped with Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. It means they can take cashless payments directly using a smartphone, without the need for an additional card reader. This will make sales smoother and easier for vendors – as well as making it quicker and more secure than ever for our customers to buy from them.
“We’ve all been in situations where people have been trying to sell us The Big Issue and there’s an awkward moment when you realise you haven’t got any cash, because a lot of us don’t carry it any more,” says Ash Schofield, CEO of giffgaff since 2018. “So by providing phones through this partnership, we help to remove that barrier.” The partnership is steeped in shared values around connection, accessibility and sustainability. “We’re trying to make connectivity through mobile as accessible as possible, because fundamentally it’s the right thing to do.”
Our partnership with giffgaff builds on our existing work to support vendors with cashless transactions. During the Covid-19 pandemic, our frontline teams started supplying vendors with card readers, allowing them to sell the magazine in line with health guidelines. It also helped them get up to speed with an increasingly cashless society. According to a report by UK Finance, 17 billion contactless payments were made in the UK last year, and 87% of us used contactless technology at least once a month. A government briefing earlier this year revealed 74% of people in the UK use cash only occasionally or rarely.
Vendors quickly saw results when they started offering this fuss-free pay-ment option. In an average week, they sold five more copies, adding up to £520 a year in additional earnings.
“Vendors are very keen to get set up with card readers,” says Felipe Ramirez, who coordinates our national cashless programme.
One of our vendors who’s now able to take contactless payments is Marsilia Cimpeanu, who sells the magazine outside Waitrose in Winchmore Hill, North London. “I’ve seen a big difference in my sales. A lot of people don’t have cash on them as much as they used to,” she says of her experience taking contactless payments. “It’s more convenient and secure. I can ask customers if they want a receipt via email, and when you tell them that, you give them a sense of security. I think it’s useful for vendors and for customers.”
It’s been helpful for Cimpeanu both in retaining her regular customers, and in attracting new ones. “Once they see they have that security and trust, they can come back to buy The Big Issue if they don’t have any cash, or if they want to continue using contactless because they prefer it. It saves time.”
The refurbished phones supplied by giffgaff will replace our existing handset and card reader combinations, helping vendors to make faster, easier transactions, and increase their sales even more. Lidia Ion (below left), another London-based vendor who uses contactless tech, can see how the new phones will simplify sales at her pitch in Hackney Central. “You have to charge the card reader separately,” she says of her current set-up. “One day I forgot to charge it – I was in the middle of a payment and it just died on me. The guy had a bike and went to get money and came back, but I almost lost a sale.”
Cimpeanu agrees: “When you have the card reader and your phone, you have to connect it via Bluetooth, you have to put your location on – there’s a few steps.”
Fighting digital exclusion
As with much of Big Issue’s work, the benefits aren’t just financial. Digital exclusion – a form of social inequality that affects people who don’t have internet access – often goes hand-in-hand with poverty. According to a 2022 Ofcom report, it’s highest among people in low socio-economic groups. Having access to technology like smartphones is proven to help people affected by poverty, by increasing their connectivity while upping their skills and confidence.
“On a very practical level, hopefully we can boost vendor sales,” says Schofield of giffgaff’s aims for the partnership. “But also, maybe getting a phone in a vendor’s hands opens up their connectivity opportunities beyond the practical. Connectivity can create new pathways in people’s lives that you’d never dream were possible, and lives are changed as a result.”
This increase in connectivity has already made a huge change for vendors like Ion, who – like 55% of our vendors – didn’t have a phone before Big Issue supplied her with one. Both Ion and Cimpeanu report feeling more connected after getting their phones, and having access to apps like Google Maps that many of us would take for granted.
“Having the phone helps with getting to your pitch, seeing when the buses come, making sure you’re getting there on time,” Cimpeanu says. “I can FaceTime and use WhatsApp, so I can keep connections and have people around to support me.”
Big Issue understands that trying to overcome digital exclusion comes with hurdles, especially when combined with other issues like language barriers and immigration status. That’s where our frontline teams come in. When helping vendors get set up for contactless, they also help them to apply for official identification so they can open a bank account. We provide specialist training, helping them understand how to use smartphones, how to manage money, and how to stay safe online. In line with our commitment to digital and financial training, Big Issue plans to work together with giffgaff to continue improving vendors’ confidence and competence with their new phones.
Last year, our frontline teams helped 1,319 vendors to go cashless, including just over 400 new vendors all over the UK. “There are many examples of vendors who have transformed their lives in positive ways by going cashless,” says Felipe. “One notable example is a vendor who was recently released from prison. They were sleeping rough and unfortunately were being robbed of their belongings on a regular basis – this included their mobile phone. Under the cashless project, we were able to provide a new handset free of charge, which enabled them to take card payments and provided them with a consistent livelihood by selling the magazines. Furthermore, we established a consistent line of communication which was not available before, and have been able to secure housing and government benefits to get them off the streets.”
For people and planet
As a fellow certified B Corp, giffgaff is the perfect partner for Big Issue. B Corps are a new kind of business responding to the urgent challenges of today’s world: if a company has a B Corp certification, you can be sure that they are equally committed to people and planet as they are to profit.
Big Issue Group has been a B Corp since 2015, and last year giffgaff was proud to be awarded the certification – in which every aspect of a company is assessed for its social and environmental standards.
“The B Corp certification was really motivating, because it puts a system behind good intent,” explains Schofield. “You’ve got to prove it, document it, build it into the way you make decisions. You’re putting so much rigour into it; we were excited about it being a gift that keeps giving.”
The environmental commitment of giffgaff is reflected in the sustainability of their technology. The 250 phones provided to vendors are all refurbished – second-hand tech given a new life and saved from landfill, in a world where the average smartphone is only used for two years before it’s replaced. These refurbished models are also a huge hit with giffgaff customers.
“Three out of four of the phones we sold last year were refurbs, so we’re delivering great value with great values,” says Schofield. “Our customers are a savvy bunch, so they’ve worked out they can buy refurb phones for a lot less than new ones, but their carbon footprint is a lot lower.” Not only that, with giffgaff, you can also send your old phone to be refurbished, cutting down on e-waste. Even if it’s broken, the elements and minerals can be used to repair other phones.
“Accessibility, great value, flexibility and a sense of our place in community are all the sorts of things that chime with giffgaff and Big Issue,” Schofield concludes. “The Big Issue is doing a wonderful thing, and it’s also a really good read. It’s the same with giffgaff: we’re fairly priced and good value, and it’s a good network, with higher satisfaction levels than many big players in the industry.”