• 01.16.14

Can The Sharing Economy Bring Back Bartering?

A crop of online trading services is making it easier than ever before to trade your junk that you don’t want for other people’s junk that you do want.

Can The Sharing Economy Bring Back Bartering?
[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

Seeing as we’re in the post-holiday period, you’ve probably got lots of stuff (aka “crap”) lying around the home. That thing your mother gave you that you’ll never use. That thing someone re-gifted disingenuously, pretending it’s something you might like. You know.


Well, the strange thing about the universe is that there’s always someone out there with completely opposite taste to yours. There’s always someone who’ll take that thing off your hands, even though it really is crap. And, the beauty of the Internet is that you now have a way to find that person, and perhaps even find something you need in return.

Online bartering has been around since the Internet’s earliest days. And, though some ventures have folded, others like ITEX (which mostly caters to businesses) have flourished. With the buzz around the idea of a “sharing economy,” several new bartering services have appeared in the last few years. Apps like Yerdle, for example, which was founded in 2012 by veterans of Walmart, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Zipcar, have added a new sophistication, both in their technology and marketing ability.

TradeYa, which launched recently, is another new bartering platform, but arguably one that has a purer model than other offerings. Yerdle and sites like Bib & Tuck use their own currencies, or points, to exchange goods. You accrue credits by selling stuff, which you can then “spend” bidding on other people’s no-longer-wanteds. With TradeYa, it’s more straightforward. You deal one for one, no points needed. You click on something someone has posted, the owner gets an email, and then they choose something of yours–or not. All the other party has to do is go to a “trade page” and drag in the item (or items, plural, if they want more than one for your thing) and the terms are agreed. The site also facilitates shipping, with both sides paying a $3 transaction fee.

Jared Krause, TradeYa’s co-founder, argues that other sites facilitating bartering are more like “buy-sell platforms,” and that the use of currencies takes away from the social relationship. TradeYa commissioned research into bartering, and concluded that it is a “fundamental form of social exchange that clearly predates any monetary system.” Sites that use points are therefore failing to cater to our inner id. “Using money is a learned behavior,” Krause says. “Bartering is innate. Kids do it around the age of three.”

We’re not sure if Krause is right. But his site is pretty slick, and it seems to be successful so far. In three months of beta before this month’s launch, several thousand people signed up to use it, the most popular categories being consumer electronics, motor vehicles, and women’s accessories.

The good thing about bartering, whatever the method used, is that it has a clear environmental benefit. Every good transacted is one that isn’t made new or ending up in a landfill. It also potentially helps people who are long on possessions, but short on spare change.

“I believe this has a huge benefit to people of all socio-economic brackets, particularly to people who work hard and have a lot of good stuff but don’t have a lot of free cash,” Krause says. “This gives them a whole way to get the stuff that they want that’s more fun, more social, that’s better for the environment and that doesn’t really cost anything.”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.