Article Synopsis :
Based on interviews with more than 25 founders and CEOs of sharing-economy startups across the globe and a survey of over 3,500 consumers in the US, India and Germany, “Hopping Aboard the Sharing Economy” from BCG explores opportunities created by the sharing economy, consumer attitudes toward sharing, and the industries likely to be impacted.
The ‘sharing economy’ is loosely defined as a rapidly growing set of platforms permitting users to gain access to various assets. Sharing models come in essentially three forms:
Decentralized Platforms: An asset owner sets the terms and offers the asset directly to the user. The platform makes the match and facilitates the transaction in exchange for a small share of the fee (e.g., Airbnb). Upfront capital costs are low but the platform must recruit providers to ensure adequate supply.
Centralized Platforms: The platform itself owns the asset and sets the price. It has greater control over quality and collects a higher share of the transaction value, but costs to scale are much higher, too (e.g., Zipcar). High utilization is required to remain viable.
Hybrid Platforms: Asset owners offer a service with price and standards set by the platform. Ownership and risk are decentralized, while standardization and service level are centralized (e.g., Uber and Lyft).
Seizing the opportunity, about $23 billion in venture capital funding has poured into sharing economy startups since 2010. The sharing economy creates new sources of revenue and profit in at least two ways:
- Expanding markets: The sharing economy attracts new customers who either can’t afford to own a product or don’t have sufficient need to do so. ShareGrid, a camera rental platform is an example of the former; Boatbound, a leisure boat platform, an example of the latter.
- Increasing willingness to pay more: Consumers are willing to pay higher prices for goods that can generate a revenue stream by being shared.
BCG’s research shows that economics, more than attitudes, drives the sharing economy. Specifically:
Users enjoy value, quality, and variety: The principal reason consumers find sharing services useful is that they provide great economic value. The other two main advantages are that the consumer knows what they’re getting and can trust the service because of ratings and reviews. Variety is also a factor.
Nonusers worry about convenience and trust: Consumers not using sharing services cite three reasons: 1) they enjoy the convenience of ownership, 2) they don’t trust the reliability of platforms they haven’t used before, and 3) they’re uncomfortable sharing payment information.
Sharing isn’t just for startups: Their early lead notwithstanding, startups don’t have a mortal lock on the sharing market. Consumers would prefer engaging with professional or established companies. Customers want certainty, consistency, quality, and transparency. The market is open to both startups and established companies able to deliver these benefits.
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Digital Insurer's CommentsThe sharing economy is typically viewed as a playground for millennials, who will ultimately outgrow the ‘fad’ of sharing in favour of buying. It’s also viewed as largely irrelevant to most industries outside of taxi fleets and hospitality. Lastly, sharing tends to be viewed as economically destructive to the industries in which it does actually take root.
We agree with the authors of this report that these three views are largely misplaced. Sharing is here to stay, not just a passing fad. And though sharing is indeed a threat to certain incumbents (for example, Yellow cabs in New York), sharing creates more net economic opportunity than it destroys over the long-term.
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