No Cash, No Problem: Bartering Booms Online


Editor's Note: MainStreet's Farnoosh Torabi went on the Today show this morning to discuss the ins and outs of bartering. Here’s her take:

The country’s personal savings rate rose to 5% of disposable income in January, the most in about 14 years. But people still need stuff even if they're spending less.

Short on cash? Trying to save? Still need braces? The Internet can help straighten things out.

At FavorPals a dentist in Cincinnati says he’ll offer free orthodontics in exchange for some network maintenance on his computer.  He is not the only one offering a cashless exchange for services.

On Craigslist, a New York skin care specialist with experience in “all types of laser treatments” will offer her services if you’ll professionally groom her dog.

A Facebook member will houseclean, launder, baby or pet sit (your choice), in exchange for mechanical help on her Jeep.

And a Twitterer will teach you English  in exchange for teaching him how to program software.  (Then maybe he can help the dentist in Cincinnati in return for a retainer.)

The Bartering Bounce
Across the country bartering requests—asking to swap goods and services for other goods and services without involving money—is penetrating the web. “People are looking to save any money they can,” says Greg Boesel, co-founder and CEO of Swaptree, a web site dedicated to trading books, music, DVDs and video games.

Craigslist has reportedly seen a 100% rise in bartering ads since January 2008. At Swaptree, Boesel says the site has doubled its listings every three to four months since launching in July 2007. There are now about 1.5 million items listed for trade. And John C. Moore, co-founder of four-year-old U-Exchange says page views on his free barter site have skyrocketed 172% in the last 30 days, compared to the 30 days before that.  “When gas prices were just sky high people were looking to get rid of their gas guzzlers in exchange for motorbikes,” says Moore.  “Now,  people are  looking for renovations and bartering for vacations.”

New Online Swap Sites Emerge
New web sites continue to pop up.  Joseph Denton started SwapGiant in September 2008 and is now seeing close to 2,000 unique visitors a day. Many items bartered on the site are children’s toys, clothing and bikes.

At FavorPals, which launched in October 2008, most trades are service-oriented, like a cleaning lady who recently offered her services to a law firm in exchange for legal help fighting a traffic ticket. The site now attracts some 6,000 unique users a month.

And in January Scott Larsen and John Patton launched FriendlyFavor, a free “all-purpose request tool” that lets users ask favors of their trusted social network of family, friends and friends of friends. The site lets users post a variety of requests including charity contributions and advice, but the top-growing trend is barter requests, the founders say.  “We anticipate that being half or more than half of our traffic by the end of the summer,” says Patton.

Select Sites Cater to Your Needs
Here are a few sites to consider if you have specific bartering plans in mind:

HomeExchangeHomeswap and HomesForSwap
Barter Bait: Homes for vacationers. (Use it if you’re interested in staying in Europe for a week but don’t to pay for housing. You can offer someone in Rome your place for theirs).

SwapAGift and Plastic Jungle
Barter Bait: Swap un unused gift card for another.

Barter Bait: Books, DVDs, music and video games. (Added bonus: Your only cost is shipping your item.  The site advises you use the post office's Media Mail service which lets you send almost everything for less than $2.50.)

SwapStyle and DigNSwap.
Barter Bait: Clothes and accessories.

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