The New Rules for Bartering: No Cash? No Problem

This story was originally published on April 23, 2010, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.

If you’re low on cash it doesn’t mean you can’t get what you want or need.

“You can barter literally anything,” said Karen Hoffman, who along with former business journalist Shera Dalin authored the new book The Art of Barter: How to Trade for Almost Anything. The book outlines how individuals and business can trade in person, on websites, and through commercial exchanges for products and services.

When first approached, however, most people — and especially businesses — are hesitant to barter, thinking they need the cash, Hoffman told the E-Commerce Times.

“Figure out what you want to barter ahead of time,” said Hoffman, who has 20 years of experience in the bartering industry and was formerly the executive director of the International Reciprocal Trade Association. “Put together a win-win proposal.

Bartering on the Web

Like bartering itself, bartering online is not new. Virtual Barter developed its first online, e-commerce-enabled, barter-exchange software in 2000. The software enables independent barter exchanges, organizations, trade networks, business associations and their members or clients to manage, merchandise and market products and services.

“Virtual Barter has online, e-barter-enabling software, trade exchange management solutions, the infrastructure, core relationships, business model and industry domain expertise to transform and redefine commercial barter as it exists today,” Bruce Kamm, chief evolutionary officer of Virtual Barter, told the E-Commerce Times.

Virtual Barter is now working with a barter exchange to develop The exchange wanted a barter exchange that resembled the look and feel of Facebook — the most popular social-networking website — along with Facebook-type applications.

Paid members of barterbook have the option to refer friends to join the social bartering network and provide a product or service to barter. “The concept was to use social media and networking, to propel new member marketing instead of employing typical methods of salespeople on the street and on the phone,” Kamm explained.

A number of online barter exchanges have also set up accounts with Twitter, the popular micro-blogging social network, to highlight new bartering opportunities in real-time with their members, who are then followers of the barter exchange, Kamm said.

“It’s a great way for a members to learn about new trade opportunities, as new offers can be pushed to hundreds or even thousands of followers in a few seconds,” he said.

Social Media

The Community Connect Trade Association, which allows businesses to trade their products and services to earn trade dollars to buy from any other participating member, is an example. It is using the social networks Facebook and LinkedIn.

The idea is to use the social networks to spread its message, said Annete Riggs, managing director. “We are learning that these tools are very helpful for connecting to others and spreading the word in a more viral way,” she told E-Commerce Times.

Community Connect converted its Facebook group into a fan page. “When someone sees that a person they respect has become a fan, they want to know more about it,” Riggs explained. “With LinkedIn a similar thing happens, but it also builds on the six degrees of separation concept, so you can find specific types of businesses.”

Despite all the new social-media tools available, Riggs said that online bartering on its own has not proven to be that effective yet. “I believe that for the experience to be consistent and effective trust is still very important,” Riggs explained. “Most commerce happens locally. People want to connect and know who they are dealing with.”

Closed Access

ITEX, which has 24,000 active small businesses participating in bartering and 90 brokerage offices across North America, is an example of bartering exchange that keeps its website closed to members, said Alan Zimmelman, director of communications.

“We have no way to determine whether any of our members communicate with other members via Facebook or LinkedIn,” Zimmelman told E-Commerce Times.

Members of ITEX must log on to the exchange’s site and search for goods and services, he said. The businesses then communicate with the seller electronically.

The ITEX website has tens of thousands of offerings — from framed art to vacations to zoo tickets. “It is a very efficient manner of promoting the services of a member,” Zimmelman noted. Other examples might include timeshares or even putting money toward college expenses. “Yes, some schools barter their tuition,” he said.

However, there are some things that anyone considering going online to barter should consider, Zimmelman warned. “Know what you are buying and be certain that the item can be returned if it is not what was represented,” he said. “Buying a car, or a diamond, or even a printer can be dangerous unless there is the ability to return it.”

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