Guest article by Hugo Guyader, Pia A. Albinsson, Yasanthi B. Perera, and Stephanie J. Lawson.
From ridesharing to crowdfunding to various peer-to-peer provided accommodation options and beyond, the modern-day sharing economy has taken root in the mainstream marketplace. Partially driven by various movements and trends (e.g., sustainability, digitalization, minimalism) arising from societal-level concerns (e.g., climate change), it continues to expand in scope and breadth. Some of this growth may also be attributed to the economic crises of the past decade, which pushed people to monetize possessions and engage in financially cautious consumption.
Collaborative consumption (CC) is a key aspect of the sharing economy paradigm. Compared to businesses that rent goods (e.g., carsharing through Zipcar, Rent the Runway for fashion, or e-scooters from Bird), CC is peer-to-peer based, in that people (typically strangers) interact directly to exchange goods and services. Often, CC practices are facilitated by online platforms, some of which are provided by third parties, e.g., social media platforms that connect providers and users. For example, Boone Student Beeper, a rural North Carolina-based grassroots rideshare initiative organized through a private Facebook group (and governed by the self-set community guidelines), helps students and others coordinate to reach their destination safely after a night out (Perera and Albinsson, 2020). Founded in 2011, this “voluntary designated driver group” has proven to be more reliable than Uber and traditional taxi services, which are limited in the community. Indeed, in many locales, one would find other examples of local and informal collaborative practices that are designed to help the community.
Staying within the mobility sector, carpooling, which entails drivers with empty seats offering lifts to those traveling in the same direction, is another prototypical example of CC. In terms of vehicle occupancy, carpooling increases efficiency while enabling all occupants to share traveling costs, which is somewhat different from peer providers (i.e. drivers) being compensated for an Uber ride based on company set rates. Additionally relative to conventional consumption that is largely based on the transfer of ownership, which occurs when consumers acquire goods from retailers, CC practices are often temporary and may entail the use of previously used goods or idle resources owned by others (i.e., peer providers). For example, when carpooling, the driver offers a lift to another person, makes use of empty seats, but retains ownership of the vehicle. Beyond carpooling but yet within the shared mobility context, other popular CC platforms such as GetAround, Turo, or GoMore facilitate peer-to-peer renting of cars between private individuals. Besides the mobility sector, CC is commonplace in other contexts (e.g., service sharing systems, crowdfunding) and can entail a range of P2P interactions: (e.g., swapping, borrowing for free, renting for a fee, or exchanging services for services such as through time banks).
Evolution of CC efforts
From its inception in approximately 2008 to the present, the modern-day sharing economy unicorns – namely Airbnb and Uber – have dominated not only the marketplace but the media landscape, and they continue to be the focus of scholarly attention. Nevertheless, before being able to rent an air mattress, a room, or an apartment through fee-based platforms for a night, there were Couchsurfing.org and Warmshowers.org, which are based on the true sharing of idle resources without a strong profit motive (e.g., free or nominal user fee). Similarly, before Uber X, we could ask friends for a lift to the airport.
Along the same vein, before BlaBlaCar, the carpooling platform founded in 2004, there was hitchhiking. But, as one can imagine, it was not that efficient. BlaBlaCar transformed the practice of hitchhiking into “organized hitchhiking” (aka “hitchhiking 2.0”, or perhaps, simply carpooling as we introduced earlier). It made it easier and safer for potential drivers and passengers to connect, reserve trips, make and receive secure payments, and review their peers after the carpooling experience (Guyader, 2018). While the sharing unicorns differ from their predecessors in various ways, what is most distinctive is their global scale. Through facilitating and normalizing service interactions between strangers, Uber, Airbnb, and other large capitalistic logic-based sharing economy companies have undoubtedly transformed consumers’ and providers’ experiences (see also Gleim, Johnson, and Lawson, 2019), and disrupted industries. In doing so, besides co-opting the notion of sharing, these businesses utilize consumer-owned resources to compete with traditional service industry incumbents (e.g., hotels, taxi companies). However, in engaging in large scale and profit driven CC operations, the convenience, cost-effectiveness, and other benefits they offer consumers are accompanied by negative externalities that exert undue pressure on multiple parties including providers, and communities (as Sabine Benoit discusses in her guest article — see also Griffiths, Perera, and Albinsson, 2018).
With that acknowledged, in this blog post, we want to direct attention to the potential for CC efforts to contribute to community development. To this end, utilizing technology-based platforms, smaller and lesser-known entities within the sharing economy facilitate interactions, and exchanges that foster social bonds and community. Doing so is critical given that in recent times, medical professionals, governmental bodies, academics, and others have sounded the alarm on the prevailing loneliness epidemic. Thus, examining community efforts within the CC space that extend beyond surface-level service interactions is a valuable avenue of exploration as, in the process of delivering their specific services or products, they may also address loneliness and isolation (Albinsson, Perera, & Griffiths, 2021). Such efforts directed at creating various forms of social value are the focus of our forthcoming book, Understanding Collaborative Consumption (Edward Elgar).
Community at the heart of CC
Understanding Collaborative Consumption highlights community efforts and innovative adaptations in CC that emphasize the realization of social and environmental benefits. While some chapters are focused on developing theory within this context, others examine CC initiatives around the world including repair cafe communities in New Zealand, hand-me-downs and fashion circularity in Austria, and food-sharing platforms in Finland. While many of these grassroots efforts are small-scale, they nonetheless provide value to their local and regional communities in different ways by, for example, providing access to expertise, and opportunities for communal learning. As such, besides monetary concerns related to maintaining ongoing operations, some of these smaller-scale entities are focused on values such as thriftiness, communal belonging, and stewardship that forge social bonds, and contribute to individual, community, and environmental well-being. Moreover, the offerings in Understanding Collaborative Consumption extend beyond the realm of what is typically considered CC and the sharing economy, for instance examining communal healing in France in the aftermath of terror attacks, or by considering collaboration in the context of the food supply chain, thereby once again emphasizing community efforts.
As community organizations and companies continue to develop their value propositions, platforms, processes, and policies, the sharing economy and CC expand into new spaces and experience constant evolution. However, within such a context, it is important to remember that the smaller perhaps grassroots-oriented organizations founded to address local needs have the potential to contribute to positive outcomes at the local level including in forging social bonds and fostering community. In doing so, such efforts have the potential to reinfuse the spirit of sharing and collaboration into the sharing economy.
To learn more about these topics and many others including collaboration in relation to global digital currency systems, and the food supply chain, please keep an eye out for the forthcoming book Understanding Collaborative Consumption, edited by Pia A. Albinsson, B. Yasanthi Perera, and Stephanie J. Lawson (Edward Elgar ISBN:978 1 0353 0752 4 – available April 2024). This edited volume features research contributions from 40+ scholars around the globe. Each chapter has a unique focus that informs the reader about different aspects of CC that allow for a more nuanced understanding of the topic related to various services contexts.
– Albinsson, P. A., Perera, B. Y., & Lawson, S. J. (2024) Understanding Collaborative Consumption. Edward Elgar: Cheltenham, UK.
– Albinsson, P. A., Perera, B. Y., & Griffiths, M. A. (2021). Overcoming scarcity through efficient consumption: innovative sharing initiatives. In: Sigler & Corcoran (eds), A Modern Guide to the Urban Sharing Economy. Edward Elgar: Cheltenham, UK. 55-70.
– Albinsson, P. A., & Perera, B. Y. (2018). The Rise of the Sharing Economy: Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities of Collaborative Consumption. Praeger: Santa Barbara, CA.
– Belk, R. W., Eckhardt, G. M., & Bardhi, F. (2019). Handbook of the Sharing Economy. Edward Elgar: Cheltenham, UK.
– Benoit, S., Baker, T. L., Bolton, R. N., Gruber, T., & Kandampully, J. (2017). A triadic framework for collaborative consumption (CC): Motives, activities and resources & capabilities of actors. Journal of Business Research, 79, 219-227.
– Gleim, M. R., Johnson, C. M., & Lawson, S. J. (2019). Sharers and sellers: A multi-group examination of gig economy workers’ perceptions. Journal of Business Research, 98, 142-152.
– Griffiths, M. A., Perera, B. Y., & Albinsson, P. A. (2019). Contrived surplus and negative externalities in the sharing economy. Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, 27(4), 445-463.
– Griffiths, M. A., Perera, B. Y., & Albinsson, P. A. (2022). Lives of the Lonely: How Collaborative Consumption Services Can Alleviate Social Isolation. Frontiers in Psychology, 13, 826533.
– Guyader, H. (2018). No one rides for free! Three styles of collaborative consumption. Journal of ServicesMarketing, 32(6), 692-714.
– Perera, B. Y., & Albinsson, P. A. (2020). Uber. Greenwood Publishing: Santa Barbara, CA.
Assistant Professor of Marketing
Linköping University, Sweden
Pia A. Albinsson
Professor of Marketing
Appalachian State University, USA
B. Yasanthi Perera
Assistant Professor of Business Ethics
Brock University, Canada
Stephanie J. Lawson
Associate Professor of Marketing
Appalachian State University, USA
Image credit: Andrew Moca.