The Covid-19 era has spawned a whole new set of tech and societal buzzwords, from Permanent Home Working (PHW) to Zoom Fatigue – but the Trading-up phenomenon is bringing a new, greener dimension to the e-commerce market.

Imagine, if you could trade a hair-pin for a house in California. Welcome to Trading-up, the growing digital craze which appears to defy all laws of commercial gravity, yet in hindsight is an entirely logical consequence of both the Internet and the maturing Fridays for Future generation now old enough to start trading online.

If there was one thing the younger generation had in abundance during lockdown, it was time along with the Internet, and plenty of pent-up social creativity. The special set of circumstances that drove millions of consumers worldwide to new digital platforms has also spawned a new type of digital e-commerce hobby: Trading-up.

Trading-up is becoming a hobby

To be sure the concept has been kicked around in academic business circles for years and is generally defined as a trade of goods or services that results in a higher product or service value outcome for the trader.

Trading-up as a hobby, however, sees ordinary folks set out on an online trading-up journey starting from a very low-value commodity, to achieve a significantly higher-value goal through a series of trades, using a range of trading and ecommerce platforms, from global marketplaces such as eBay right the way down to local church online listings.

The hobby has also spawned a new set of trading-up online stars, who have also posted updates on their trading-up ‘journey’ on social media to draw attention to their cause and aid their trading-up journey.

One of the originators, the self-named ‘red paper-clip guy,’ Kyle MacDonald, delivered a Ted Talk in 2015 to outline his trading-up journey from said paper-clip to a house. At the time, the Ted Talk was considered a somewhat freaky example of online marketplace dynamics, and the lengths a nerd could take it. But over the last year, several others have started out on the same journey, documented in far more social media detail than MacDonald’s original journey, with the same end – a house.

Capitalism by another name?

As one high-profile Trading-up influencer Demi Skipper puts it, trading-up is about more than finding and exploiting capitalist opportunities.

In many cases, the individuals trading products or services for each other meet up in person to perform the trade, and share their trading stories online – stories which in many ways demonstrate the fact that value is in the eye of the beholder.

And then, there’s the green argument: Old and second-hand products that would have ended up in the trash are finding a new lease of value life, as tradable objects, helping to break the environmental impact cost of new product production.

So far, Skipper has traded-up her original hair-pin for dozens of products and services, from a set of earrings to an Apple TV box, several second-hand PCs, smartphones and MacBooks, sneakers as well as vehicles of all descriptions – on route to her goal, a house. After six months and almost 30 trades, Skipper finally traded a Jeep for a Wild Bound Tiny Cabin.

Skipper’s ‘Trade me’ case study has now the attention of the mass media, as well as environmental activists keen to cut back on new product creation for ordinary household goods that can easily be traded, without money or new CO2 emission creation. Watch it take off, in the name of climate action.