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Barter or borrow: Online swaps, rentals help consumers seeking to save

07/24/2012 01:05 EDT | Updated 09/23/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Andrea Ata and Dominika Gutkowska arrived toting carts with more than 100 books, CDs and DVDs between them — and their expectations in check.

"There was no wish list because coming to these things, you don't know what you're going to get," Ata said outside Swapsity's recent Book Movie Music Eco-Swap at the Live Green Toronto Festival.

"We're just hoping (for) even one good book that we wanted to read."

But the 16-year-olds ended up doing far better, scoring a copy of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," a number of teen books and DVDs like the recent "Planet of the Apes" remake — with no money changing hands.

"There's a lot of things that we have at home and (they're) just going to end up nowhere. There's so many unused things," said Ata. "We think coming down to the swap and being able to exchange (them) is not only eco-friendly, but a great way to reuse things and make a difference."

Of more than 6,200 items contributed, more than 4,900 were swapped during the nine-hour event, said Swapsity founder Marta Nowinska. Some of the remaining 1,300 items were donated to the YMCA and the balance was being saved for a swap on Sunday in Toronto's Kensington Market.

Swapsity has staged numerous face-to-face swaps, which have included events where deal-seekers exchanged for accessories, clothing and Halloween costumes. But Nowinska said the concept originally launched as, and mainly remains as, an online swapping community.

"I see swapping and the sharing economy as a way to stretch your budget and be kinder to the planet," said Nowinska. "So if you tap into this community of cashless transactions — a community like Swapsity —you get access to a sharing network in our community. Your talent, your things, your time — that has value and it can be traded for something else."

Soon-to-be-newlywed Fahrin Hirji has embraced bartering as she parlays her own skills in exchange for services for her upcoming nuptials, like having appetizers and desserts made for the big day.

The IT recruiter has offered to help individuals with interview skills and any other job-related expertise required. The Swapsity volunteer and her fiance, Avi Bhatt, even scored a personalized song from a recording artist — which the couple plans to use at their wedding — in exchange for working on his resume.

"There's a whole other form of currency and bartering that people don't even realize," said Hirji.

The 38-year-old has also been able to scoop up some classic TV shows through swaps, DVDs she said are often difficult and costly to find elsewhere. Compounding the challenge is the shuttering of many rental stores which impacts both availability and supply, she noted.

"I'm finding it's very difficult," said Hirji. "A lot of the independent stores have raised their prices and they're hard to access. And a lot of times, they're out of stock on what you want."

Beyond bartering, the online realm is proving to be fertile ground for cost-conscious consumers seeking to borrow items on a short-term basis.

Sara Da Costa of the online rental marketplace RentThings.ca said the website has been up and running for a year.

After her father died about 5 1/2 years ago, Da Costa's mother had a garage packed full of his belongings which her daughter offered to give away or sell. Her mother told Da Costa she couldn't part with the items.

They decided to start making some of the items (including tools) available for rent, starting a website similar to one in France.

Da Costa said there are now a lot of rental requests for big-ticket items such as cars, motorcycles and jet skis.

She also continues to rent out her father's tools. "It's a way of my dad being alive for us."

Nowinska isn't surprised to see interest in short-term rentals, particularly since the value of the item isn't necessarily vested in possessing it full-time.

"At the end of the day, we don't need the drill — we need the hole. We don't need the CD — we need the music. So this idea of ownership is starting to diminish in importance," she said.

"Using a community — like some sort of swapping or sharing community — it creates this marketplace for items which are no longer used by one person, but could be of value to someone else."

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Online:

RentThings: www.rentthings.ca

Swapsity: www.swapsity.ca

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