Barter (noun), bartering (verb): The exchange of goods and services, for other goods and services without using money.
The forerunner of modern economic transactions, bartering, historically served as a way for ‘natives’ and explorers to exchange goods in the absence of a common currency. Bartering existed among strangers, people who would otherwise be enemies. This scenario raises questions of the equality of the value of goods and services exchanged (even cultural exchange!) within this system. I mean… who can top Dutch colonist Peter Minuit’s bartering skills when, he bought the island of Manhattan from the Native Americans for the equivalent of $24 worth of trinkets, beads and knives in 1626? Modern bartering exists today as practiced in Retail Barter Exchange and Corporate Barter.
However, my blog post today does not focus on the traditional bartering model, but rather on some bartering similarities I experience when I shop in my neighborhood grocery, and when I use a taxi service.
On more than one occasion, the grocery cashier gives me a mint candy after I pay the bill. Hmmm… another example of sweet surprise I thought! But not really, they just didn’t have the small change to give me- 100 vnd, 200 vnd or 500 vnd, etc. so they would automatically hand me a candy in exchange for the real coin. No big worries right? But have you ever tried paying the grocery store using the same candy currency? I did for a laugh… they simply laughed back at my attempt and dismissed my rationale ‘you gave me candy change last time, so now I want to pay you in candy’. Of course the answer was a clear no. This type of barter system only worked for their benefit, never the customer.
The double standard although quite comical, irritated me as I saw the same thing happening with taxi’s. The meter would read say… 50,000.500 vnd you hand the driver a 50,000 vnd and give your brightest smile, and say ‘Cảm ơn anh!’ But the drivers would either give you the loudest grunt or a stony stare that would make you want to run out the door. But when its their turn not to have small change they will try to give you that ‘double hand wave’ (sorry… i do-not-know!) and assume you’ll leave it up to good karma and get out the taxi without any argument.
I always tell my students, give your clients added value… think of ways to do something for them without being asked to work on that long-term relationship. But now, I add to this a word of caution. The return on service investments should be two-way. Especially in the bartering of goodwill, this should never be one-sided. Caution should be practiced to discern whether the exchange just benefits one party.
Who benefits from this bartering scenario? The grocer or the buyer? The taxi driver or the passenger? The service provider or the client? Ideally in all exchanges both parties should have equal gains. Perhaps not at the same time, but at the very least make sure to take turns in barter benefits. It may just be a few un-accounted cents but when you sum-up all the returns, it’s still rounds up to a Big Dong. Make sure you don’t end up short-changed.