This for that: Singapore embraces barter in recession

Puja Bharwani

Hair styling in exchange for printing jobs. Feng shui services for marketing expertise.

It isn’t your typical mode of business, but as the recession bites, many people and enterprises in Singapore are turning to the age-old practice of barter to pay bills and cut costs.

But gone are the days of the simple one-to-one direct barter. Currently, there are two online barter exchanges — Barter Vista and BarterXchange — and they are attracting hundreds of people seeking innovative ways to stretch their dollars.

“Barter Vista is where business owners, especially small and medium enterprises, come together to barter trade their excessive inventory or their slow time, in return for things that they will otherwise use cash to buy,” said Chew Chee Yong, managing director of Barter Vista, which has about 400 members.

“For example, my printer, one of my members, barter-traded his spare capacity in return for staff benefits, or even dining vouchers and insurance,” he added.

From business to beauty, there’s something for everyone on the barter websites.

Daisy Leng gets her hair styled at Tranzform Hair Studio, also a barter website member, which in turn gets printing and web publishing services from another member.

Users of the site pay a one-time joining fee of $520. Members who offer their services earn a barter currency which can be traded for products or services. For every transaction conducted, Barter Vista takes a cash commission.

These days, the services most traded are printing, marketing, public relations and advertising, according to Chew.

Angela Sim, a senior marketing executive, has been a member of Barter Vista for three years and says bartering benefits everybody involved.

She has been doing marketing for Geek Terminal, a restaurant, and in return for her expertise, she got advice on feng shui, or the ancient Chinese belief of geomancy, to arrange her home and office, which would have otherwise cost her thousands of dollars.

“Any business that has spare capacity or down-time will find bartering useful. Or even during these tough economic times, where they find cash is hard to come by,” Sim said.

For the owners of Geek Terminal, Danny Pang and Christopher Lee, bartering enabled them to obtain a sophisticated marketing campaign that cost them up to 70 percent less than what they would have paid if they had gone the traditional way.

Although bartering is relatively new in Singapore, Barter Vista’s Chew expects the site’s trade volume and membership to double in 2009, largely due to the global economic crisis.

In 2007, trade volume was worth around $800,000.

According to the International Reciprocal Trade Association, the modern trade and barter industry facilitates 12 billion dollars in business-to-business barter transactions worldwide annually.

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