Will The Sharing Economy Last?

When I was young, my folks were famous for buying my brother and I used goods. They didn’t see the point in buying us new ice skates, skis, or bikes when the used ones worked just as well. And although they did “work just as well,” we were always a little bit disappointed that we didn’t get a shiny new “whatchmacalit” of our own.

Today, not only is borrowing or buying used items back in (you can find just about anything on Craigs List), but people are sharing a LOT with total strangers. From boats to homes, bikes, toys, cars and clothes, consumers are rising up and taking matters into their own hands  – finding ways to save money in this still down economy by sharing goods instead of buying them. Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group recently wrote a really interesting post about the “Empowered People” on his blog, where he also talks about how corporations are going to have to adapt to survive this phenomenon. I think it will be interesting to watch the evolution – hopefully to include elements from businesses such as better customer service, more realistic pricing and fair business practices (especially in banking and financing). I do wonder, however, if when the economy fully recovers, will the sharing economy last? Is it a result of the current economic client or a deeper, underlying change to the human psyche? Owyang interviewed the voice of Millenials, Dan Schawbel, who surmised that this up-and-coming generation – who will soon dominate the work force – started sharing out of necessity, but who he believes will continue to do so well into the future. I’m not so sure I agree. Given their reputation as the “Me Generation,” something’s not aligning for me. Once the economy recovers, and this generation (and others) begin to make a better living again, graduating into that stage of life where they’re building their own homes, families and traditions, will sharing be as important? Or will they begin to embrace ownership and that longstanding human desire of wanting our own?

I do believe that the genesis of the shared goods idea will spawn new business practices and that consumers will once again force big businesses to change the way they interact with the social customer. With our collaborative ideas and public discussions, we’ve certainly begun to make corporations responsible for adhering to their promises. Whether it’s an “as advertised” hotel room, a product that does what the packaging says it does, or customer service that treats us like actual humans, we’ve come a long way in altering corporate behaviors. Marketers and advertisers have to align messages to ensure that companies can actually live up to them. Product development has to deliver not just on time – but right. Gone are the days of overblown promises and underperforming. The collaboration economy  will further push companies to listen to and include customers in their business strategies pre execution of product and services. And that’s good for everyone – saving resources, time and money all around.

Have you begun participating in the collaborative economy? Why or why not?

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