Tuesday February 19, 2013
Swap, for Earth
BY NATALIE HENG
Bartering is making a comeback – digitally.
HOW DO you get rid of unwanted excess in a consumerist society? You barter it – online. A phenomenon that is gaining traction all over the world, people are starting to realise that you don’t always have to pay to get what you want.
Websites like Swap.com, BarterQuest or The Freecycle Network each have millions of members listing everything, from old video games to Christian Louboutin pumps to electronic drum sets.
Some specialise – bookmooch.com deals solely with books, lovehomeswap.com is a platform for swapping vacation homes, and Smartguy.com helps businesses find mutually beneficial ways to get rid of excess inventory or production capacity.
The benefits of going back to basics when it comes to balancing out supply and demand don’t just apply to our own pockets however. Bartering is great for reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. It offers items we have outgrown a longer lease of life, and by trading these items, we avoid buying new products and therefore cut out the consumption of new resources and generation of new waste. It improves the efficiency of product life-cycles, and somehow, makes the world feel more connected – it’s up to the community to take initiative, contact, and swap with fellow users – a grass-roots driven, credit-card free, and environmentally friendly solution to feeding our modern-day consumer habits. You simply sign up to become part of an online community, post what you have, and find somebody else who has something you want to swap it with.
Malaysia has been catching on, but slowly. Some international platforms like The Freecycle Network and U-Exchange for example, offer spaces to list products in Malaysia. There are some home-grown platforms. FriendlyFashion.my is one of these, trading in “preloved” (second hand) clothes, shoes and accessories.
Generally, however, the variety on offer from Malaysian online barter users doesn’t seem as enticing as that in most other countries. This is something Albert Ng, 38, and Clive Tiew, 39, want to change. They have joined the fray with Savepot (savepot.com.my), which features a general, local-based online bartering platform called BarterIt, and an online space that allows small businesses to share their latest promotional offers and deals with the masses, called SaveIt.
Ng points out that although we are constantly swamped with promotional flyers – through the post, on our windshields, shoved in our door grills – we usually just end up throwing them away. They are never actually there when we need them, and because we usually can’t be bothered to shop around, we often end up simply paying full price for products and services.
Hence, SaveIt was created as a space for the little guys, small local shops that don’t have the money to engage in heavy advertising and promotions, to spread the word on what they have to offer.
“The idea was to accumulate promotional offers that will give significant value and savings to the public under one website. That’s why we called it Savepot. It’s like a pot of savings potential,” says Ng.
They had the idea almost a decade ago, but the cost of building a website was too high at the time. Today, the duo have stable jobs and better incomes, so they decided it was time to bring their old dream to life. Ng hopes that once more people start using the site, advertisers will come in to make the venture more financially sustainable in the long run. As the Savepot idea was being rekindled, both were aware of the online bartering phenomenon taking off abroad.
Being from a small town near Kluang in Johor, Ng grew up with nature, and thinks of himself as a pretty environmentally conscious guy. Hence he loved the bartering idea, because it’s a great way of helping reduce consumption and waste. Personally, he loves plants and would love to see more people posting up plants for barter, at some point. So far, he has offered his old guitar up for barter.
Bartering works best on a local scale, he says. Users who have agreed to swap items must make their own arrangement when it comes to actually exchanging the goods, whether physically meeting up or sending the items through the post.
Currently, the pickings look slim, compared to when you go into foreign barter sites like Swap.com. There is a host of categories in BarterIt, including arts and crafts, books, clothing and accessories, health and beauty, furniture, jewellery, pets, collectibles, music and electronics.
But many categories remain empty. So far, the website indicates that only 11 barters have taken place. In total, there are only 78 “haves” available for swapping, ranging from stamps to books on marketing (Ng points out that books, which are quite expensive to buy in shops but often only get read once, are ideal for swapping), a first generation Apple ipod, a Tin Tin comic in French and watches.
As for the “wants” section, there are only three items. Ng agrees that it might take time, but the only way online bartering is going to take off is if people sign up, and post good items. Once the choices become a little more exciting, more people will be motivated to post and swap items of equal value – and that’s when we can start turning to online bartering as a real option for getting rid of stuff we don’t need, in exchange for obtaining what we want.
“We have also added a ‘donate’ button so people can post things up for donation to specific charities which have signed up with us and can list the items they are in need of.”
Around the world, it looks like society has come full circle. A prehistoric method of trade to today’s fiat money system, bartering is making a digital comeback. Only time will tell whether Malaysians are quite ready to put their trust in good old human interaction, to find things and trust that swapping can be a better, cheaper and more sustainable option for consumers.