Your Guide to the Sharing Economy

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The sharing economy is a novel way to exchange goods and services with others in a way that helps everyone save money. It’s also changing the way that people consume, as sharing — especially for higher-priced assets — becomes thriftier and more sensible than owning. 

But how does the sharing economy work? We’re here to explain. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the sharing economy definition, as well as a few important sharing economy companies and example use-cases. Whether you’re an investor curious about this booming new part of tech, or you’re just looking for the best way to start spending and saving wisely, this guide can help. 

Navigate this article’s topics with the links below, or read through for a full guide.

What is the sharing economy?

The sharing economy is a way for individuals and businesses to lend out goods and services they have access to. This produces a revenue stream for the owner of the asset, and provides borrowers with a cheaper way to gain access to what they need, since they don’t have to buy it. 

Plus, the sharing economy is growing. Boston Consulting Group found that investors have put more than $23 million into sharing economy platforms since 2010.

We’ll go into more depth on sharing economy examples in a later section, but some commonly shared assets include cars (through ride-share services), housing (through AirBnB and competitors), and even personal finance (through peer-to-peer lending). 

Looking for a quick definition? Keep the one below in mind.

Sharing economy definition

The sharing economy is a peer-to-peer lending system, often facilitated by online platforms, that allows individuals or small companies to share goods and services with one another.

To better understand the sharing economy, it’s helpful to see how it fits into the bigger picture of novel industries that are disrupting traditional ones. 

Sharing economy vs on-demand economy

The on-demand economy is a name for the new suite of services most people have available with their phone. “On-demand” refers to the fact that, with just a few taps, swipes, and a credit card, there are many goods and services immediately available to consumers. 

For instance, let’s say you need groceries delivered — there’s an app for that. A fleet of gig-working delivery drivers (more on that next) is ready on demand to bring you the bread, almond milk, and kale that you need ASAP. 

How does this differ from the sharing economy? When investors, economists, and consumers talk about the sharing economy, they are referring more specifically to services that facilitate sharing goods. It might not even be on-demand; for instance, if you’re part of a group of people who share power tools, you might not have access to the bandsaw you need until the person who has it now is done in 3 days. 

The sharing economy and the on-demand economy have a lot in common, though, as they both allow peers to collaborate through the use of a third-party app. That brings us to another buzzword you might be hearing a lot about these days. 

Sharing economy vs gig economy

The gig economy focuses more on the workers’ side, rather than the consumer. For instance, both sharing economy services (like Airbnb) and on-demand economy services (like TaskRabbit), and even services that fall into both categories (like Uber), can be considered forms of gig economy work. 

The gig economy consists of workers who operate on short-term contracts, performing jobs through an app-based service. When investors and economists talk about the gig economy, they’re usually talking about the transition in many sectors toward this sort of short-contract-based work. 

The quintessential example is a service like Uber or Lyft. Rather than a full-time, wage-based job like taxi driver, many people are instead working part-time, contract-based, often precarious positions as ride-share drivers. That’s the gig economy in action. 

Examples of the sharing economy

We’ve already discussed a few types of sharing economy services, but what are a few more familiar examples? The answer is that there’s no set definition or criteria for what makes a service a part of the sharing economy. That said, there are a few examples that you’re probably familiar with:

  • Ride-share: Services like Uber and Lyft are great examples of the sharing economy — a driver shares their car (and time) with a consumer, who gets a lower-cost ride out of the arrangement. 
  • Car-share: Some services also allow you to share your car with peers, not by driving them, but by allowing them to rent it. 
  • Tool-share: Power tools are expensive. Luckily, the sharing economy makes it easy to see who has a tool you can borrow, and pay a small amount to rent it for a day or two while you complete a project. 
  • Clothing sharing: There are sharing sites for expensive designer clothes that you probably won’t wear more than once. Pay for a subscription, then rent for a few days. 
  • Crowd-funding: Have a new business idea or product concept? You can use services online that allow you to crowd-fund the startup costs. 
  • Peer-to-peer lending: Rather than going through a large financial institution or sketchy loan shop when you need cash, peer-to-peer lending allows consumers to seek financing from other individuals who have a little surplus cash they’d like to grow. 

As mentioned before, there’s no hard-and-fast definition or criteria — pretty much any service that allows people to help each other out can be considered a part of the sharing economy. 

Sharing economy apps

We’ve mentioned that the sharing economy is mostly facilitated by app-based services — but what are these apps? Chances are, you’ve probably already got a lot of them on your phone. Here are a few common sharing economy companies, and what they’re built for:

  • Ride-sharing and taxi alternatives: Uber, Lyft

This is definitely not a complete list. Chances are, if you need some item or service, but don’t want to purchase it yourself, there’s a sharing economy solution out there for you. A simple Google search of “[What you need]” + “sharing app” will likely bring you tons of interesting options to consider. 

Pros and cons of sharing economy

Like anything, the sharing economy comes with plenty of pros and cons to consider. Before going all-in on using sharing apps, let’s take a look at some of the benefits and downsides that come along with the sharing economy.

Pros

  • Sharing services can help you save money
  • Sharing apps give you access to things you might not otherwise have (like power tools or a small loan)
  • They’re often on-demand, too (though not alway), so you can get what you need quickly
  • They allow owners of assets to make a small, steady stream of passive income
  • They’re popular. According to PWC, about 19% of people have participated in the sharing economy, and that number is expected to grow. 

Cons

  • They might be riskier than a traditional business because you’re renting items (like a car) from an individual rather than a company
  • While they might allow for a new income stream, some sharing economy jobs (like rideshare drivers) might not allow you to make a full living
  • Some app companies might inflate prices or take a large commission in order to increase their own profits — be sure to do your research on an app before using it as either a buyer or seller

Overall, for most people, deciding whether using the sharing economy makes sense will be an individual process. For some people, making money with side hustle apps might be a great way to spend some time and earn a little cash. For others, it might not make as much sense. 

If you have a vacation home you don’t use often, it could totally make sense to rent it out to travelers who need a place to stay. Others might not want the hassle associated with cleaning the home and preparing it for the next guests — ultimately, it’s up to you whether participating in the sharing economy makes sense. 

Sharing economy: the takeaways 

The sharing economy is a great way for peers to connect and share goods and services they have access to with people who are looking for access at a bargain price. It can include anything from sharing cars and power tools to peer-to-peer lending and crowdfunding. 

Here’s what to remember:

  • The sharing economy uses apps to allow individuals to connect with each other, sharing their goods and services.
  • It’s closely related to the on-demand economy and gig economy; in fact, there’s tons of overlap when it comes to the apps used in each. 
  • You can use the sharing economy to access things like car rentals, fashionable clothes, power tools, personal loans, and seed money for your ingenious ideas. 
  • Apps like Uber, Vrbo, DailyLook, and Prosper are all popular sharing economy options. 
  • There are pros and cons
    • Pros: Usually inexpensive, a great way to find extra income, and convenient
    • Cons: You have to trust peer lenders and borrowers, and some companies pay workers less than other options, or charge fees that make lending not worthwhile

What options can the sharing economy open up for you? Research the ways that you can start using sharing apps today, and start saving (or making!) money. 

Sources

Boston Consulting Group | PWC | IRS.gov

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