Why online bartering is here to stay

Trade you this lamp for your purple pants
Emma and Elliot use the online bartering service Bunz. (Michelle Macklem)

Barter has long been part of world economies, a common practice alongside gift-giving, credit, and currency. It may have waned in the past century with the rise of our consumerist society, but thanks to the digital boom, swapping with strangers has made a comeback.

Online bartering has been a growing trend for years now, a clear example of the so-called sharing economy. 
But what drives people to use an online bartering system? And is it a fresh act of defiance in precarious financial times, or just a flash-in-the pan trend?

Elliot Fonarev is a law student at U of T and an active user of the Facebook-based bartering community, Bunz. He cites barter culture as a way to save money and connect with the community around him. Elliot generally puts his trades on Bunz in batches and tries to schedule them around this school schedule. One of the difficulties with bartering is the time it takes to schedule these trades and the possibility of a no-show. What Bunz aims to do is make the trades more reliable for its users and create a safer environment for potential bartering.

Elliot generally searches for "true trades" - trades that are one-to-one and don't include gift cards or alcohol. Gift cards are technically allowed on Bunz although trading for any kind of cash value is discouraged and often removed from the site.

Emma echanged her lamp for Elliot's purple pants. (Michelle Macklem)
Elliot met Emma in the West End of Toronto to trade a pair of his mauve pants for her lamp. The trade lasted about 20 minutes and the two chatted about their days and why they were trading these particular items. Elliot has been trading lots of his clothes on Bunz after he began transitioning. Bunz provided him with the ideal platform to feel like he could safely trade the feminine clothes he no longer wanted.

Shannon Lee Simmons is a financial planner and founder of the now defunct Barter Babes Project with a mission to re-invent the financial planning industry. She is often cited as an expert in millennial financial advisement and knows first hand the changes that people under 40 have to make in planning for the future. She notes that bartering can and should be a part of everyone's budgets - not just millennials. With the job market falling on precarious times, she says that bartering can be a way to supplement your income for those extra things, like a new sweater or haircut - that aren't urgent.

Story by Spark freelance producer Michelle Macklem


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