Collaborative consumption — new trend shaping the face of consumerism in the U.S.

Rochelle Kopp

Recently, my husband and I were invited to attend the wedding of some friends. The location was in a very fashionable place, a winery in Sonoma, just north of San Francisco. Because this area is very popular for vacationers, the average rate for hotel rooms is very high. So we sought an alternative — a website called airbnb.com. It’s name stands for “air bed and breakfast” (with “air” originally referring to airbeds), and it serves as a marketplace where people can rent out their couch, their spare bedroom, or their entire home to one of the site’s users. The site makes its money by taking a cut of each transaction.

We have used Airbnb many times, and found that it often provides more reasonable rates in convenient locations than hotels. This time was a good example — our stay at someone’s vacation cabin in Sonoma was less than half the cost of a hotel, and we were so close to the wedding venue that we were the very first guests to arrive! Staying in someone’s home is also more interesting than being in an impersonal hotel, and can be a better way to really experience a place.

Airbnb is an example of a trend that is reshaping the fact of commerce in the U.S., known as collaborative consumption. Also referred to as “the sharing economy”, collaborative consumption de-emphasizes private ownership, either by giving individual owners that ability to make their assets available for use by others for a fee, or providing access to shared resources. Airbnb is an example of the former, as are services such as RelayRides which enables individuals to rent their cars to other people, toolspinner which enables individuals to rent out tools such as sanders, drills, and powerwashers, and LiquidSpace which enables companies to rent out their conferences rooms and desk space to other companies.

Zipcar would be an example of the access to shared resources category. Zipcar owns a fleet of cars that it stations in convenient locations primarily in urban areas. Users can rent them for short periods of time, shorter than the full day rentals required by regular rental car companies. Thus someone could rent a Zipcar for just a couple of hours to go shopping or run other errands. Zipcar is proving so convenient that some consumers, such as young people living in crowded urban areas, are opting to avoid purchasing their own car and instead use Zipcar just when they need it. This saves the cost and trouble of owning a car. Zipcar was recently acquired by car rental giant Avis, which brought further attention to the viability of the collaborative consumption model.

Advocates of the sharing economy say that it is environmentally friendly, because it leads to less waste and more better use of resources that are underutilized assets. They also promote positive values such as sharing and neighborliness. It will remain to be seen to what extent such services reshape the face of consumption in the U.S.

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Japan Intercultural Consulting http://www.japanintercultural.com

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