While many people are excited about the sharing economy, and consider it a recent phenomenon, most would be surprised to know it came of age during World War II, when we first saw posters encouraging ride sharing (or car-sharing as it was called back then) as part of people’s patriotic duty to reduce fuel demand.
Fast-forward to today, and the sharing economy is in the news again. This time, facing deep skepticism from the likes of Slate’s Matt Yglesias, a highly respected writer and author, who boldly proclaimed “There is no sharing economy.”
I think it’s fair to say that if there is skepticism about the sharing economy, it is more focused on ‘Peer to Peer’ sharing versus the Zipcar/RentTheRunway type models. Matt argues that if you pay him to use something he owns, it’s not sharing. I agree. Zipcar has struggled for years with the category name of ‘Car Sharing’ for that same reason.
Another influential thinker, Rob Go of NextView Ventures, takes the argument to the next logical conclusion in questioning the long-term viability of the peer-to-peer model. He posits that if sharing works so well, people may stop buying their own, new cars (or other products) and the available inventory of products and services will ultimately shrink and degrade (unless, of course a single-owner model like Zipcar exists to ensure availability of new and quality options).
In addition, service delivery, the ability to meet or exceed a customer’s expectation, is fast becoming the major challenge for emerging P2P businesses. While participants in the P2P economy howl at the requirements of basic regulations that entrenched providers must meet, ultimately it will increase confidence in their service. If providers in this space can’t deliver an experience that is consistent, trustworthy and accountable, this nascent industry is doomed to fail.
The ability to meet or exceed a customer’s expectation, is fast becoming the major challenge for emerging P2P businesses.
At Zipcar, our members (who we call Zipsters) are at the heart of every decision we make. We understand that they are choosing to rely on us to get them from point A to point B. Sometimes that’s a mundane trip to the grocery store. Other times, it’s a baby’s first ride home from the hospital.
No matter the destination or the reason, we take great care to ensure that our service works exactly as our members expect when they make that reservation. During the course of 13 years of operations and millions of reservations, we continue to seek ways to improve on that goal.
So, is “sharing” a good name for the category? Potato or Po-TAH-to. Whatever you want to call it, “the internet of things” is making it easier than ever for assets to be made available, tracked, and billed on a pay-per-use basis. Consumers ultimately benefit from access to the latest and greatest technology and the safest and most sophisticated products – all for a fraction of a cost of owning them.
What I do know is that we’re nowhere near the end of this phenomenon. Now’s the time to buckle up – and enjoy the ride.
About the Author: Mark Norman served as the President of Zipcar from 2007–2014.