What’s old, of course, always becomes new again. That holds especially true this month for the prehistoric practice of bartering. Indeed, it never really went away, even as digital payments took over more of daily consumer life and as entrepreneurs continued trying to push cash further into the corner.
We here at PYMNTS consider it our mission to keep our readers up-to-date on all commerce-related holidays, both major and minor, and so it is our duty to inform you that the second annual International Barter Week (IBW) is set to kick off on Monday, Nov. 18. Granted, IBW is not exactly an organic event – similar to Prime Day, it seems to be more of a marketing event, focused mostly on bread-and-breakfast experiences. But it does serve to shine a spotlight on bartering, and in a big way. Indeed, various bartering experiences are set for that week right before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday – experiences that can be facilitated online. In fact, digital technology is a key part of setting up certain exchanges via barter, given the efficiency of that global communication method.
“More than 600 B&Bs, hotels and self-catering businesses across the world have signed up to take part in the second international Barter Week,” reports the U.K.-based newspaper The Guardian. “The initiative … invites accommodation owners to offer free stays to guests in exchange for sharing skills or goods.”
Getting Into the Modern-Day Barter Fray
The hotels taking part use a website to list their needs, which can be met via barter. Some participants accept bartering offers all year long, while others do so only for a limited time. Offers come in from all over the world, but as of Friday (Nov. 8), the U.K., South Africa, Spain and Greece originated more offers than most other countries.
One typical listing – for The Montana, a guesthouse in the U.K. – expressed this bartering offer: “We are regularly giving this beautiful building refurbishments – the next on the agenda is the bathrooms. We are looking for someone who can help with tiling our ensuite bathrooms.” That’s in addition to a “short list” of carpentry jobs, or artwork, or even making a “short film/edit of our guest house.” In exchange, the person doing the work can get access to “a beautiful Victorian property offering quality bed & breakfast accommodation.”
Bartering offers can get a bit … well … out-of-the-box. Some locations ask for musicians or even acrobats in exchange for a stay. And we should note that PYMNTS intends to avoid any location seeking clowning for lodging quid pro quo.
Back Where It All Began – And Back Again
Bartering, of course, was one of the original ways to pay, if not the first.
The practice has been traced back at least as far as Mesopotamia in 6000 B.C., but likely started way before that. “This system has been used for centuries and long before money was invented,” reads an analysis from personal financial management firm Mint. “Today, bartering has made a comeback using techniques that are more sophisticated to aid in trading, for instance, the internet.” Old-fashioned bartering was limited by geography, with trades taking place among people likely to know each other in real life. “However, today bartering is global,” Mint notes. “Generally, trading in this manner is done through online auctions and swap markets.”
Indeed, there are numerous online sites that promote and enable bartering. One of these is Swade, a mobile trading platform that, according to its website, will soon be available via the Apple App Store and Google Play. Swade says it enables users to “swap items for other items. In addition to allowing you to see what your items could be traded for, you’ll receive offers on the item you’ve uploaded, allowing you to see what you could receive if you accepted the offer.” In an interview, Swade Founder Christian Smeltzer said he was inspired to create the company because of “my personal experience on my farm in Missouri state, where I traded equipment for tools, services, etc.”
Swade still hasn’t taken flight, but other bartering sites have. Clothing is among the leading product categories for bartering – reflecting, at least in part, the growing consumer desire to recycle all types of products, including apparel. Take SwapStyle, which bills itself as “the world’s original and longest-running clothing swap site.” The site, which reportedly launched in 2004, also enables the trading of cosmetics and gadgets.
Such experiences are possible only in this digital age because online marketplaces and similar platforms enable people across time zones – or even oceans – to find and trade with each other. And modern logistics – sharpened by increasing consumer demands for fast delivery – are vital to such efforts. So are the paths blazed by cross-border payments and cross-border commerce experiences, which serve to further promote global trading.
And as International Barter Week shows, accommodation is a big area for such trading, with stays often earned via volunteer work. A company called Workaway, for instance, tries to appeal to consumers interested in sustainable commerce – which would include a big chunk of millennials and younger consumers, according to various studies – by facilitating homestays, family exchanges and working holidays in trade for lodging.
Digital payments are certainly making significant strides and are moving toward global domination. But bartering is part of the human experience and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.