What's Next for the Sharing Economy?

By Clem Cartwright

What can traditional, established brands learn from the sharing economy? 

The concept of the “sharing economy” is not new. In fact, people have been celebrating, and debating, it for years now. The poster children of this business model, built around the concept of shared resources, are the cab-hailing app Uber and short-term letting service Airbnb. The Sharing Economy allows participants to have unique experiences that transcend that of a traditional commercial transaction.

However, there is one crucial element that is missing; none of these businesses are actually sharing. Technology professor John Naughton describes the model as “a perfectly intelligent way of using the internet as a way of putting buyers and sellers in touch with one another – a contemporary embodiment of what eBay started all those years ago.” By referring to business transactions as “sharing”, they are only making themselves more of a target when things go wrong. The danger is, that while these companies are growing at an exponential rate, they are becoming disconnected from what they initially set out to achieve.

Over the past few years, the terms “sharing economy”, “collaborative consumption”, “peer economy”, “gig economy” have been used interchangeably, but does any of this matter if there is no real value? As its sharing platform has scaled, Airbnb has struggled to sustain its initial social value. Today, 47% of London hosts are professional landlords, which means almost half of the bookings are not unique home stays, but quasi-hotels. Is this delivering the sense of “belonging” that Airbnb built its brand promise upon?

Over the past few years, the rebellion against mass consumption has been dominated by startups – Uber, Airbnb, Zipcar, Task Rabbit – all of which have become big businesses. While business growth is exciting and desirable, growing too fast can bring serious challenges and get in the way of fulfilling your core purpose. If we leverage the opportunities that the sharing economy has exposed: communities, trust and shared value – how could we apply the model to existing brands?

How could a finance company challenge established methods of delivering product and service?

How could a pharmaceutical brand make better use of resources to allow for more efficient allocation of supply and demand?

How could a retailer create new sources of income and flexible working?


The sharing economy is not only important to meeting evolving customer needs, but also to the survival of traditional services. Don't get left behind. 



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