Bartering for goods and services may sound positively medieval, but thanks to new technology it is making an unlikely comeback

As the seat of modern civilisation, there are many ancient relics and traditions to be found in Greece.

But while everybody knows about the Acropolis of Athens and the Greek penchant for plate-smashing, a lesser-known fact is that Greece has become an epicentre for bartering good and services.

The financial crisis and resulting liquidity problems gripping the country have led many to seek alternatives to cash. According to the New York Times, butchers are swapping meat for tyres, while artists barter their works for olive oil.

This return to an ancient method of exchange is being helped by technology. Greek entrepreneur Yiannis Deliyiannis founded barter site TradeNow in 2013. It lists items available for bartering, offering a points system to indicate what items are worth.

You can find everything from apartments to Monopoly boards on the site; following an initial seed round of funding the site was valued at $2.5 million.

“It can be a huge benefit for advertisers because it offsets their costs, but also gets their goods and services out there, which is the reason for advertising in the first place,” says Frances Dickens, Chief Executive and founder of Britain’s biggest media barter company, Astus.

“Meanwhile, media owners are able to make their ad space more affordable, and at the same time use their media space as a soft currency, getting things they wanted for the business that they would have had to pay cash for.”

According to Dickens, the industry is worth some £400 million in the UK.

Bartering in stable economies

Although bartering tends to make a comeback in times of economic strife (Venezuela has a seen a similar upswing to Greece), it has become a popular mechanism in stable economies too. Media barter has been around for about 20 years, offering advertisers a chance to pay for their advertising in their own goods and services.

This business-to-business bartering is increasingly mirrored in the consumer world. Sites such as Love Home Swap allow their users to stay in other people’s homes all over the world in return for offering up their own homes.

Meanwhile, readers of the Financial Times are given the opportunity to read articles free, in return for answering a few questions about themselves. This latter example shows consumers leveraging the power of their data in return for something they want.

Entrepreneur Nicholas Oliver set up his company People.io in a bid to give people some ownership of their personal data. “We’ve built a platform to give consumers more control over how their personal data is used by brands and how they are rewarded for it,” says Oliver.

Users can choose to see less advertising as the data increases its relevance, and in return they can earn credits towards certain services. “For some it’s about reducing monthly outgoings, for others it’s about improving their digital experience.”

Faces of a Vibrant Economy

Debbie Wosskow, CEO and founder of Love Home Swap, is one of Grant Thornton’s 100 Faces of a Vibrant Economy. Read Debbie’s story.

Illustration: Harry Haysom