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The Sharing Economy

Learn more about the rapidly expanding sharing economy fuelled by an increased interest in online platforms.
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© University of Central Lancashire

The Sharing Economy has grown rapidly in recent years. This follows from an increased interest in online platforms that encourage peer-to-peer sharing of resources such as accommodation, transport and products (Cherry & Pidgeon, 2018). Airbnb and Uber have both been cited as platforms that have gained success from the Sharing Economy (Schor & Attwood-Charles, 2017). The Sharing Economy has been advocated as a solution to many economic, environmental and social issues, but some claim that the concept may create issues within the same areas (Cherry & Pidgeon, 2018). Such issues may relate to precarious work conditions, bypassed regulation, tax evasion, or exploitation (Hawlitschek et al., 2018).

Sharing itself is not new. It is the sharing of products and services between strangers that is seen as a defining feature of the developing Sharing Economy (Belk, 2014). Cherry and Pidgeon (2018) maintain that the concept is driven by a philosophy that proclaims the need for distribution and utilisation of idle capacity: If individuals grant each other access to existing resources, then society as a whole can make more efficient use of products, skills and time. By facilitating the distribution and use of underutilised assets, the Sharing Economy facilitates a more sustainable approach to consumption.

The literature does not offer an agreed upon definition of the Sharing Economy (Cherry & Pidgeon, 2018). Hawlitschek et al. (2018) explain that the concept represents an umbrella term that subsumes a variety of concepts and ideas, such as collaborative consumption, access-based consumption and commercial sharing systems. Hawlitschek et al.’s (2018) research focuses on what they term as peer-to-peer sharing, or peer-based transactions that can be characterized as non-corporate, commercial, temporal, and tangible.

Cherry and Pidgeon’s (2018) study investigated British consumers’ perception of the Sharing Economy. They found perceived benefits associated with reduced carbon footprints and resource use, increased and equitable access to previously unaffordable products, as well as the strengthening of communities and reduced social isolation. However, willingness to participate was contingent upon affordability, convenience, and hygiene. Hawlitschek et al.’s (2018) research with German consumers found perceptions of financial benefits in that peer-to-peer sharing may save consumers money. Also, a collaborative and minimalistic lifestyle may represent a form of conspicuous consumption and the display of independence. However, peer-to-peer sharing is perceived by some as involving effort, for instance due to the impracticalities associated with distance to other people and the need to plan ahead. It may also involve a variety of risks and associated uncertainty. In a peer-to-peer sharing situation, neither party is typically used to professional business practices. Also, ownership of an item tends to offer higher levels of freedom and independence from others compared to peer-to-peer sharing.

Sources:

Belk, R. (2014). You are what you can access: Sharing and collaborative consumption online. Journal of Business Research, 67(8), pp. 1595-1600.

Cherry, C. E. & Pidgeon, N.F. (2018). Is sharing the solution? Exploring public acceptability of the sharing economy. Journal of Cleaner Production, 195, pp. 939-948.

Hawlitschek, F., Teubner, T. & Gimpel, H. (2018). Consumer motives for peer-to-peer sharing. Journal of Cleaner production, 204, pp. 144-157.

Schor, J. B. & Attwood-Charles, W. (2017). The “sharing” economy: labor, inequality, and social connection on for‐profit platforms. Sociology Compass, 11(8), Article e12493.

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