In parallel to the world of the handcrafted and whimsical things found on sites like Etsy and the small batch products found at farmer’s markets, Team AEP notes this: the emergence of cashless commerce. This is one more refusal of retail as we once knew it — the big and the branded, with complimentary 2 hour underground parking – and a new set of practices in its place.

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[Exhibits A and B – Secondhand Sunday (http://www.secondhandsunday.ca) and Bunz (https://bunz.com) come from my current hometown of Toronto.]

Additional evidence of cashless commerce can be found in neighborhood swap & sell groups on Facebook, where people list things for sale (Ed. Note: sometimes at mind numbingly trivial prices such as two or three dollars, which makes me wonder ‘why even bother’), but there are also curb alerts (objects either intentionally left or abandoned curbside) and porch pickups of items ranging from the old standby Ikea Billy bookcase to blenders and toaster ovens, to boxes filled with books, magazines, and CDs.

But let’s get back to Bunz. There are apparently only 2 rules there: No cash is allowed and don’t be a jerk. You can’t buy anything on Bunz, but you can trade. A sample of current postings on Bunz in Toronto include mud masks, a plant with no name, and a never worn dress. And remember you can’t buy any of these things, you can only trade something for them. Sometimes the trade is specified, such as a bottle of beer, and sometimes it is up to the interested party to propose something agreed to be fungible.

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While messaging with a friend this weekend, I mentioned that I was working on a blog post about Bunz and he told me about a friend of his girlfriend who recently traded an unopened package of paper towels and a transit token for an unopened box of tea using the site. Note that the desired currency for the dress above is also the transit token.

In a profile of Bunz (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-24/maybe-mark-zuckerberg-should-listen-to-these-canadian-hipsters)
last fall written by Gerrit DeVynck for Bloomberg.com, it was described as “…a quirky mash-up of the classifieds vibe of Craigslist, the sociability of Meetup and the neighborliness of NextDoor.”

To ensure safety while swapping, Bunz has set up trading zones at shops and cafes, which are identified by door stickers, such as the one seen below at Tandem, a café in my neighbourhood in Toronto.

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Bunz founder Emily Bitze started the site in the summer of 2013 and since that time various subgroups have popped up, e.g. for jobhunting and apartment hunting, along with sites for other Canadian cities and the first U.S. one for New York. An angel investor now backs the company, which most likely never planned on becoming a business, and there are now 8 full time employees at the HQ in Toronto, responsible for iOS and Android app development, marketing, and even artificial intelligence.

What appears to be going on here – whether on Bunz or with curb alerts or at events like Secondhand Sunday — are new options for participating in the consumer society.

And while some may say the examples here provide further evidence of the death of retail (http://www.deadanddyingretail.com ), what’s more interesting is the birth of other forms of exchange. And, yes, there was always a market of secondhand goods, whether at rummage sales, flea markets, or Goodwill stores, but there are some key differences this time. Now we are finding an exchange of used goods without stigma or shame. Used goods that don’t say ‘I can’t afford the new version of this’.

And all this is happening in the midst of accusations of everything in our midst being soaked in ‘late capitalism’ (https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/05/late-capitalism/524943/), in which things exist for the sole purpose of being commoditized. Instead we see here the opposite of the built in obsolescence of so many goods of the 20th century, and in their place we have object lifespans limited only by their ability to find someone who needs them.

What we appear to have here is a true sharing economy, unlike the ones put forward by AirBnB and Uber, which are primarily transactional economies. If you don’t agree, try to pay your AirBnB host with unopened packages of paper towels or some transit tokens and see what happens.

Leora Kornfeld