Why Buy When You Can Barter? Top 20 Trading Websites


Buying lots of new things seems to be going out of fashion.

It’s not hard to see why – you can’t spend what you don’t have. And while we’d always advocate shelling out for the best-quality, well-priced (i.e. not super-cheap) products, there’s another way to get exactly what you want on a tight budget. It takes a little more effort – but it’s fun, creative, and it’s been popular for thousands of years. It’s bartering.

Products or services, a straight swap or a fierce haggle…bartering is an online boom industry that’s never been more timely. Where to start? Here are 20 places that will help you click your way to a new wardrobe, bookshelf or even four walls and a ceiling!



What’s traded? Used books – hardback, paperback, anything with pages you can turn.

How does it work? You’re earning and spending “mooch points” – earning by searching for titles, giving them to other members and telling people you’ve received what they sent you…and spending by acquiring the books you want (with a further option of making a donation to the charities Bookmooch support). It’s a system that rewards good practice – and since books fit nicely into small parcels, it operates worldwide.



What’s traded? Books. But in the most fun way possible.

How does it work? Welcome to one of my favorite concepts on the web – a place where books are freed into the wild, to not only contain stories but become them, as well. You register your book onto the site on its own profile, and then you write the book’s individual Book Crossing identifier and associated web address on the book’s inside cover, along with a message asking anyone holding the book to go online and register where and how they got it. Then…you take it somewhere fun, and leave it there. You update the  profile to say where you left it. And you watch. With a bit of luck, it’s the start of an amazing journey! Meanwhile, you check what books have been “freed” in your local area, and you go in search of them. Awesome fun.



What’s traded? Absolutely everything.

How does it work? It’s the daddy of all bulletin board sites, it’s the subject of a documentary, it’s permanently busy (20 billion page views a month), it’s simply everywhere…and it’s a bit of an online Wild West. Search hard enough and you’ll find what you want – but there are no safety nets here.



What’s traded? There is nothing that isn’t offered on Freecycle. It’s Life in miniature.

How does it work? We love Freecycle! Love it! Sorry, I couldn’t contain myself there. This is a colossal (4,000+ groups, 6 million+ people) network of non-profit recycling hubs, operating as online bulletin boards. Everything is given away free. You log on at key points during the day, scan down the list of offers, spot something you need and leap to the phone, hoping nobody beats you to it. It’s also a great way to shift unwanted possessions quickly, for example when you’re moving house (I got rid of a single bed in this fashion when I was at University). It’s all about what someone wants to give away for free. I’ve even seen an iBook on there – apparently snapped up in about ten seconds.



What’s traded? Books…and book-related gossip.

How does it work? It’s not just a site to swap books back and forth (you list the books you have; other people request them when you’ve posted your list; you get credit to request books yourself). It’s a reading community, with reviews, discussion forums and all sorts of lines of communication at work. That final “Relate” in the tagline is what makes it distinct from its competitors.



What’s traded? Only your home, dude. No biggie.

How does it work? Obviously this is a big deal, in every sense. This site is all about permanent house trading, and so it’s really a sophisticated way of getting in contact with people – no PayPal purchasing here – but the backbone of the site is a very real Real Estate Network.




What’s traded? Well, now, this should polarize you. Fancy putting on the slightly used makeup of a stranger?

How does it work? You browse the items on offer – you find something of your own that the swapper would be willing to accept in return – and off you go. The FAQ notes that all swapped items should be cleaned with alcohol before swapping, and only unused mascara should be swapped, but even so, there will be some people who will flinch. Since there’s a feedback system and therefore an element of accountability, there’s probably little to fear. Satisfied or disappointed swappers can also air their views on a product review page.



What’s traded? Right there in the title.

How does it work? Credits, that’s how. When you successfully send away a requested book for trade, your account swells by one credit (or two, if it’s an audio book). And if you spot a book on offer, it costs you one credit to complete the process. You can also put in a standing order for a book that’s not yet available – which is unlikely, as there are over 3 million titles in there. How much media coverage has this service enjoyed? Maybe all of it.



What’s traded? Books books books.

How does it work? Running since 2003, this is a veteran of the swapping scene (but note the dot-co-dot-uk…yes, it’s Brits-only, I’m afraid). Want a particular book? You click through The Library, their swap-enabled directory of books, and you choose. The person whose book it is gets confirmation that you want to swap – and checks out what books you have on offer. If there’s a meeting of needs – swap ahoy. It’s all free – the only payment ReadItSwapIt asks for is a voluntary donation to a registered charity.



What’s traded? Clothes and books.

How does it work? Rehash is in it for the good of the environment (their recycling-style logo is a big clue). When you “rehash” (i.e. put up for swap) an item, it’s listed as a page in the site’s Trading Post hub, and people make offers that you can flick through and weigh up. Once you’ve confirmed a mutually acceptable deal, the mechanics of getting item to new owner are left completely up to you. The site also has a nice line in community-based activities and reference resources.



What’s traded? Unwanted bags of seeds – anything from vegetables to trees.

How does it work? Unfortunately, by the looks of it, it isn’t working – there’s not much going on in that site right now. But it’s such a fun idea that I felt it worth including for the concept alone. Trading plant seeds has terrific potential (although food-related legislation might be a hurdle to clear) – and postage? Cost of a stamp.



What’s traded? Everything under the sun.

How does it work? Want the push & pull of a negotiated deal? This is the place for you, because you don’t swap based on existing predetermined values – you decide how much your swap is worth, by haggling (using their fancy electronic negotiation system). When you both see eye to eye, the swap can take place – accompanied with the quiet satisfaction of knowing you gave it your best shot.



What’s traded? In theory, anything you like, large or small. (Since it’s new, it’s still sparsely-populated).

How does it work? There are no points, no credits…it’s all about how much you think your swappable item is worth. You use this SF-based site to come to an arrangement on your terms only. It looks nice, there are plenty of great features (such as finding deals within so many miles of your home) – but right now it’s waiting for enough people to bring it alive. One to watch.



What’s traded? Anything goes, it looks like.

How does it work? If you’re in the UK, you can use it to offer goods or services by making a formal trade offer to someone, in exchange for their goods/services. If they decline, you can open an e-mail and start negotiating, or move along to a more successful attempt. Some of the offers on here are fascinating broad (“Wanted: anything with an engine in it”) and the front page is rather tatty, but it looks like a good place to check out for cars, clothes and mobile phones.



What’s traded? In a word, glam. Clothes, accessories, cosmetics, shoes.

How does it work? You build up your swapping potential by gaining a positive feedback score, so that other people can see you’re a trustworthy recipient of their fashion triumphs. You can also go for Address Verification status, which is a physical letter containing a code that once entered, confirms you’re where you say you are. Once you’re trusted and verified, you never have to wear the same thing twice and you can keep your principles intact.



What’s traded? Mainly music, but generally a bit of everything in the realm of the small to medium-sized.

How does it work? This site is much more eBay-esque in that you can offer an item for swapping, but also choose to sell it, transacting via PayPal. There’s no fancy automated bartering engine behind the scenes: you create adverts, you sift through e-mails, and you move items and/or money around. It’s strictly hands-on, so if you’re a control freak, this is the one for you.



What’s traded? Books, music, film & television DVDs, and video games.

How does it work? It’s all about the barcode. Input the UPC or the ISBN from the back of the item you have, and the fancymajiggery behind the scenes at Swaptree will find what items are offered for trade in return, and display them Amazon-style down the screen. What’s more, it’ll keep searching while you’re logged off, meaning you’re faced with a new list of potential swaps every time you log on. Specific to entertainment media – but brilliant at what it does.



What’s traded? Things from the very, very small to the astounding large.

How does it work? “World’s Largest Online Barter Exchange Auction Site”, TradeAway boldly claims. It’s big, we’ll give them that, but that big? Anyway, there’s plenty to see here. Listings range from the so-brief-they-must-be-spam all the way to exhaustively detailed multimillion-dollar property offers, but the theme is bartering. It’s true: this is where hugely expensive real estate gets swapped!



What’s traded? Items big and small, including vehicles – and homes, just for the holidays.

How does it work? It’s up to you – what this site does is put you in touch with a wide range of bartering services, and provide you with a profile on which you can flag up your status (Trading or Away) – but that’s it. Less a specific service, more a gateway to lots of them.



What’s traded? Fashion!

How does it work? This site is based in Britain but most items seem to have overseas delivery as an option. As a trader, you put a detailed advert up, attach a price to it for comparative reasons, and mention what items you’re interested in acquiring in return. Then you wait for an offer, tailored to the price or your item (or perhaps attempting to haggle you down a little). Or, if you want to get even more organized, you can set up a Boutique, rather like a shop in eBay. Bags are the most popular trading item.

Useful links:

The Budget Fashionista

“Money Is Dead: Long Live Barter?”Times Online

Image: stuartpilbrow

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.