Swapping Replacing Shopping

Dec 20, 2010

By Santi Briglia

Americans are spending more than $21 billion a year on toys
and games, according to NPD Group. Many of these items, though in fine condition,
are likely to end up stashed in dark corners of closets, basements, and attics
once they’re

With holiday gift budgets squeezed, many recession-scarred families
are looking to the web for low-cost alternatives for acquiring clothes and
toys for their kids. In a robust twist on downtown thrift stores and online
classifieds, a number of community-based, parent-to-parent swap websites have
made clearing out the used but still useful, and trading up for age and size,
a lot more friendly.

ThredUP.com, “Where Families Swap Children’s Clothing
(and Toys) Online,” provides
a flat-rate shipping box. The sender fills the box and lists the contents
on the site. To claim a box, a member pays $5 to ThredUP, plus $10.70 for shipping,
and has a prepaid shipping label e-mailed to them. Members then rate each other
based on the quality of the items they get.

The swapmamas.com community takes
another, somewhat novel, approach. Members can swap for what they want, or
choose to donate to another member in need. The site claims, “No buying. No
selling. Just loads of good karma.” The
sender generally handles the shipping costs so, as founder Darcy Cruwys says
on the site’s “About” page, “This way, no one is actually PAYING
to RECEIVE goods.”

Other swap sites include Five Boroughs Clothing Swap,
a New York City-based clothing exchange marketplace; paperbackswap.com for
books; and Toyswap.com and ToysToTrade.com, both focused on toys.

Speaking to
the Los Angeles Times, Rachel Botsman, a social innovator
and co-author of “What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption,” said
one reason swap sites are growing is because sellers feel good their discarded
merchandise is being put to good use.

“Technology creates the efficiency to match millions of ‘haves’ with millions
of ‘wants,’ whatever they may be, as well as the social glue to create trust
between strangers,” said Ms. Botsman. “Swapping can provide almost
as much choice as traditional shopping.”

Discussion questions: Do swap sites in any way threaten traditional retailing,
either online or off? Is there a retail opportunity? Will swap sites and their
peers continue to rise in popularity once difficult economic times abate?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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11 Comments on "Swapping Replacing Shopping"

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Bob Phibbs
11 years 5 months ago

What strikes me most is that parents were all adither when tiny traces of lead were found in toys which led to a flurry of (oftentimes) conflicting standards for expensive toy testing. This resulted in many American small toy manufacturers going away.

Now parents feel free to buy whatever someone, somewhere has shipped them in a box for $10 with no need for testing or cleanliness. geez….

Doug Stephens
Doug Stephens
11 years 5 months ago

There’s always been an ebb and flow to popularity of used goods during tough economies. Although I’ve never seen any studies done on this, I suspect that the tendency toward second-hand, swap and consignment is, in most cases, a coping strategy and not a desired state for consumers.

Mel Kleiman
11 years 5 months ago

Will this have a major effect on retailers? Most likely not. Will the trend grow? Yes.

People have been swapping among friends for years, giving away toys and clothes they no longer needed to charity. This is just another avenue to make it easy and in some ways, kind of fun to clean closets.

Not a big idea but something that will hang out on the fringe.

Max Goldberg
11 years 5 months ago

Swap sites are another way that the Internet is changing commerce. At the present time they are little threat to traditional retailers, as they have not been adopted by large numbers of consumers. If consumers are satisfied with the boxes they receive, the sites may be around next Christmas. If not, these sites may be a flash in the pan.

Liz Crawford
11 years 5 months ago

Swap and Barter sites have been gaining in popularity for the last few years–with good reason. There is still value in most soft and hard goods after a few years of wear.

Plus, there is a gleeful surprise in finding a “treasure.” Look at the rise of (let’s face it) Junk Dealers on television: Pawn Kings, Auction Hunters, etc. There is a fascination with other people’s stuff.

In the case of kids’ toys and clothing during Christmas, this is a no-brainer. Kids outgrow their togs and toys faster than adults. And, if there is more than one child in the family, there is need of more stuff…Families have been doing this for years actually. But it used to happen in the context of neighborhoods, communities and churches. Now we have the internet, so it may seem like a new phenomenon. But no. Just a more socially acceptable one.

Cathy Hotka
11 years 5 months ago

The severity of this recession is changing consumer behavior for the foreseeable future. This trend will not hurt retailers in a substantive way, but does enhance the C-C channel that Craigslist helped establish.

Fabien Tiburce
Fabien Tiburce
11 years 5 months ago

Certain goods like kids toys beg to be swapped. I mean some of these toys hardly get used. Why throw them out when another family, whether in need or not, could use them? Our family swaps, not out of necessity, but out of environmental awareness. We are unashamed about getting second hand toys and are happy to give them away too. What goes around comes around.

Doug Fleener
11 years 5 months ago

I think this is something that an independent retailer could facilitate a couple times a year. While on the surface it would appear to cost them sales, I think the increased traffic and relationship building could overcome any lost revenue.

I don’t believe this is just about saving money either. Parents are putting a lot more thought and effort into buying the right toys for their children, and seeing them go to another home can also make them feel this investment is worth it.

Bill Bittner
Bill Bittner
11 years 5 months ago
I think this whole concept of swapping perfectly good items makes all the sense in the world. I am not sure what the final business model will be, but seeing so many experiments going on should really be a warning for regular retailers. Large families, church groups, even different social organizations such as YMCA, Scouts (boy and girl), etc, have swapped stuff for a long time. Besides the economy, smaller family sizes, and short attention cycles, are all teaming up to create the situation where perfectly good merchandise is available for “reuse.” To some extent, Amazon has already embraced swapping. I just got a notice from them asking if I would like to sell back some books I bought last year. I don’t know if they do the same thing for other items. The main point is that just denying it exists doesn’t make swapping go away. If a retailer can figure out how to use swapping as a way to drive demand for new items, maybe they can come out ahead. Brick and mortar… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
11 years 5 months ago

Swapping is not going to replace shopping. It will offer an inexpensive alternative to spending money needed for essentials in future years. People’s ego will not allow it to be more than an alternative source or remedy to financial problems.

Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson
11 years 5 months ago

Swap sites are no threat to retailers. Indeed, savvy merchants should view the growing popularity of swapping as an opportunity to conduct or enable swaps in their stores, in the community or on their websites.

As for what happens to swapping going forward, I think it will continue to be a part of consumer lifestyles, especially among consumers who are monitoring their consumption of products in an effort to cut back and eliminate waste. And the rise of swapping can only benefit lower income consumers both now and in the future.


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