Beaten to the punch

I had a brilliant idea over the Christmas break. It would save some people money, it would give other people flexibility, it allow me to get a “markets in everything” link from Tyler Cowen. I couldn’t lose! It turns out that I’m too slow and have been beaten to the punch by a good few years.

I wanted to build a website that allowed people to trade store credit and gift cards. The sellers would get the flexibility of cash, the buyers would get a discount at whatever store they were buying the card for and I’d take a (tiny) slice out of the middle.

Here are two articles from 2005 speaking of exactly that market: one from Wired and one from MSNBC. Between them, they list five different sites already doing what I thought of. Oh well.

They still don’t seem to have realised the full potential of this, though. I would like to see a site to exchange all currently-non-tradable forms of pseudo money (that is, things that effectively are a store of value, but are tied to particular stores or providers). That includes gift cards, store credit, frequent flier miles, supermarket reward programmes and Second Life Linden dollars.

There are clear issues of fraud risk to overcome, but I wonder how those sites get around the various stores’ policies of making gift cards non-transferable (i.e. not for resale).

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