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Join the swap shop
It’s something of a Brighton tradition: leaving unwanted goods on the pavement with a “please take me” sign, and many a student has furnished their digs from street finds. Over the past few years, the process of “gifting” (or fly tipping, for the less charitably minded) has gone digital, with groups such as Freegle making offering or requesting second-hand items something done over email, leaving the streets free of clutter.
Now a new company is launching in Brighton to make the free exchange of goods even easier. Netcycler was set up by two Finnish entrepreneurs in 2008, Juha Koponen and Jussi Kos. Co-founder Koponen says their motivation was to help move towards a more sustainable form of consumption by “[extending] the life of manufactured goods by making it easier to trade second-hand items than to buy new ones”.
The concept is the same as the Freecycle or Freegle groups keen swappers already know, with the difference found in the interface. Netcycler mimics a shopping website, so rather than long lists of “offer”
and “wanted” emails to sift through, a Netcycler user can browse goods as they would in any other web store. It also includes a “trade ring”, which allows up to five people to swap goods in a chain, and special software to automatically link up people offering goods with people requesting the same or similar.
While other gifting services tend to shun the trappings of rampant consumerism, Netcycler is embracing the public love of shopping. Juha says the site is designed to make online swapping feel like shopping: “It has all the joy of consumerism, but with sustainable reuse and recycling benefits. [The trade ring technology] significantly increases the likelihood of getting what you want, while also satisfying a shopping impulse.”
The Finnish version of the site has been a runaway success, with 30,000 registered users as of September 2011. It also launched in Germany in October 2010, and both sites together now have more than 65,000 users. Their UK version of the site officially launched last week to coincide with the University of Brighton freshers’ fair.
Juha says: “Brighton, as the green capital of Britain, seemed the obvious place to get our UK activities off to a good start. The population is clued-up, internet-savvy and understands the benefits of swapping. Brighton also has a large student population and students are ideal users. They have to buy new books and may only get one-term’s use out of them; they move house frequently and may need to get rid of a lot of accumulated items; and they often have large numbers of CDs and computer games which are ideal for swapping.”
But it’s not only students who are into swapping. Research by Netcycler showed that people in the South East are more likely than any other region to buy second-hand before thinking about buying something new. Some 53% of people in the South East said they would swap if it helped them save money.
Juha says: “People are realising that you can’t just throw stuff away when you don’t want it, as most things still have life in them. When you combine that with a fairly depressed economic climate, swapping makes perfect sense. It cuts out waste, is environmentally friendly and saves money – what’s not to like?”
* Netcycler are offering £25 Marks & Spencer food vouchers for the first 50 students to offer ten items. Visit www.netcycler.co.uk