Don’t Shop, Swap! (Redux)

For many compulsive buyers, a big part of the appeal of shopping is the process of searching out and obtaining that new, better, desirable item. This process is so mesmerizing that it often overrides long-term financial plans, leaving shoppers deeply in debt. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Through the magic of swap—and in particular the growing online community dedicated to it—these shoppers can now eat their cake and still keep their bread.

Back in 2008, April blogged about Swap-O-Rama-Rama, an anti-consumerist clothing swap with do-it-yourself workshops that aims to recycle used clothing.  Now, the website (and iPhone app) Swap.com takes a more mainstream commercial approach to the concept of commodity swapping.  It serves as the middleman for people who’d like either to get rid of or obtain books, movies, CDs, or video games.  The layout resembles a cross between an online retailer and a social networking site: users create profiles and indicate any number of items that they have as well as any number of items they’d like to obtain.  Based on what you put on your “Have List,” the website will tell you what you can receive in trade for your possessions.  Alternately,  you can search for something you want and add it to your “Want List,” and the website will notify you if anything you currently own can be traded for that item.

If, for example, I decide that I’m ready to part with my Pink Floyd album The Wall, the site instantly tells me that I can trade this CD for one of 78,385 possible items, ranging from a Harry Potter book to a Wall-E DVD to a football game for Xbox.  However, if what I really want is the Beatles’ White Album, I can add this to my want list, and, if anything on my “Have List” corresponds with someone’s “Want List” who is looking to trade in The White Album, the site will inform me immediately.

Is Swap.com the answer to compulsive shopping? No. While it can fill some of the needs filled by overshopping and assuage some of the negative consequences of that behavior, it doesn’t get to the heart of the compulsion.  It is also limited to relatively inexpensive electronic items, and therefore fails to provide many of the most common targets of overshopping: clothes, shoes, sports equipment, even cars.  Nonetheless, a site like Swap.com can be a first step in the right direction—away from the danger of ever-growing, compulsive-buying-driven debt.

David Eisenach, Research Assistant

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