Learning to barter in the COVID-19 financial crisis

The pandemic has had a great host of economic repercussions, which have led to the blossoming of a number of online barter groups on social media.

OFFERING MANICURE services in exchange for human resource assistance. (photo credit: screenshot)
OFFERING MANICURE services in exchange for human resource assistance.
(photo credit: screenshot)
Roey Agam, a fitness trainer from Nahariya, recently found himself unemployed – another casualty of COVID-19. Upon deciding his best option was a career change, he realized the only way to accomplish this without needing to fork out money he didn’t have was to use the barter system.
“I wanted to become a tour guide in Spain and Italy, so I began learning about the culture and history of these countries, and of course, how to speak Spanish and Italian,” Agam explained. “I found an ad on Facebook for a Spanish teacher who was willing to offer language classes in exchange for a service, in lieu of payment. I immediately reached out to her and offered her my expertise as a fitness trainer in return for Spanish lessons. We set up a schedule and began our language lessons and workout sessions.
“We’re both extremely happy with this arrangement,” Agam concluded with a big smile.
Was it easy to get used to using the barter system?
“Well, I kind of fell into using this method since I had run out of cash. It certainly is a great solution for people like me who cannot afford at the moment to pay for a certain service. It was also great motivation for me to get back to doing what I love – helping others get into shape – and to receive something I valued in return.”
The pandemic has had a great host of economic repercussions, which have led to the blossoming of a number of online barter groups – people offering services in return for other services – on Facebook, Telegram and WhatsApp. These groups have been super helpful for many Israelis like Agam, who have been able to obtain services they need without having to pay for them with money, while at the same making good use of their own skills. Some of these groups have thousands of followers.
“Since the coronavirus broke out, the number of people in our barter group has risen by 46%, and there was another a huge spike when the second lockdown began,” exclaims Shira Korman, who manages a Facebook barter group that’s been around since October 2019, but has really taken off since the corona crisis began. “The longer these health restrictions stay in place, the more people are looking for alternative ways to find what they need.”
Which types of services are the most popular?
“Well, one person is offering lodging in exchange for spending time with them. There are also lawyers who offer legal services, as well as people who create websites. The most popular field by far is giving massages,” said Korman.
Do you think there should be restrictions on what kinds of services people can offer?
“One of our requirements is that the discussion remain dignified, and no one offer anything that could be considered offensive,” Korman continues. “If anything inappropriate is posted – including heaven forbid anything sexual – I remove it immediately and block that user. It’s also not permissible to post any service that requires monetary payment, since that goes against the group’s principles.
“I believe that barter is a fantastic alternative way of doing business, especially during difficult times. Right now, I’m working on developing an app that would enable people to offer their services without requiring something be given in return.”
One of the members of Korman’s barter group is Michael Dubovnik, a music teacher who carried out a barter trade with Eti Albucher, a drama teacher. Dubovnik gave Albucher a guitar lesson in exchange for a lesson in dramatics.
“I met Eti through the Facebook barter group, and our barter lessons turned out to be such an amazing experience,” Dubovnik recounts. “It was really special to have this remarkable experience with people I hadn’t known beforehand. Barter is a great way to become exposed to services and experiences you never thought you’d encounter.
“I don’t think I ever would have engaged in this type of activity if it were something I had to pay for with money. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to take an interest in these ideas. And I think this method could continue to be employed even after corona is over, especially when people are in need of more social interaction.”
IDIT LICHTENSTEIN founded the website BarterLand over a decade ago in an effort to find a better way to survive in Israel despite the incredibly high cost of living. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the website has experienced a huge jump in the number of users.
“It’s clear that now more than ever people are in need of using barter to help bolster each other’s businesses,” claims Lichtenstein. “The purpose of the site is to help both sides carry out this transaction. When COVID-19 began, none of us had any idea what was in store. We thought we’d be returning to normal soon enough, but that’s not what has happened in reality. There’s so much uncertainty in our lives now, which means that it’s even more essential for all of us to strengthen our social connections and help each other.”
Do you think fewer people will use the site once the crisis is over?
“No, I think that once people get used to interacting in this way, it becomes an integral part of their lives and they realize the importance of helping each other grow their business and supporting each other.”
A FACEBOOK group called “Barter from the Heart” was created last July.
“This group would not have stood a chance of succeeding without the members who use it and express their support for each other,” asserts Madory Karayim, the group’s moderator. “I think that the site would have been successful even if we hadn’t been in the midst of a pandemic, but since people are very worried now about their health and their financial stability, this has been a great way for people to save money, help others to grow their businesses and as a platform where people can hang out and spend time with each other. It’s a great and simple way for people to do their part to give back to society.”
A popular barter group on Telegram that was created after the COVID-19 outbreak began is called “Massage Barter’.”
“I’ve been pretty active on this site for quite some time, and I didn’t even have any massage experience when I joined,” says Kobi, the group’s assistant manager. “I’ve slowly been learning the trade. My job is to make sure that all the members are following the rules and are keeping the discourse respectful at all times.”
What’s unique about this group?
“Lots of people benefit from physical touch, and not everyone has the money to pay for massages. A lot of our members are trainees or professionals who need help. Using the barter method is a huge benefit in these types of situations. Once two people on the site connect, they work out the details in private among themselves. Demand has increased greatly since the onset of the pandemic because more people need massages to relieve the stress of daily living and this is a great solution.
To sign up, you need to list your age, city of residence, availability and whether you can provide services at home or at someone else’s home. This information helps determine the value of each person’s services.”
Are there limitations?
“There is not allowed to be any mention of sexual contact of any sort. Once two people enter into a private discussion offline regarding their barter, the details are no longer connected to our site. But all communication carried out on our site must follow this rule. Keeping all discourse exceedingly clean is of utmost importance to us.” 
Translated by Hannah Hochner.