It started with eBay and Craigslist. Then came Uber. Airbnb disrupted the hotel industry and new startup TaskRabbit promises to do the same thing for temporary staffing firms.
Increasingly, people are turning to what’s now being called the shared economy for goods and services, cutting out corporations and creating a peer-to-peer ecommerce network.
Studies show that 44.8 million Americans used a service of the shared economy in 2016, and that number is estimated to grow to 86.5 million by 2021. The Brookings Institute estimates that the shared economy will grow to $335 billion by 2025, up from $14 billion in 2014. It’s a big leap for a fairly new sector — and one that could disrupt more than just taxi services.
Instead of leaving your car while on vacation, you can register it with Getaround, a service that will rent your car out to others and return it to you clean and maintained. Liquid allows people to rent their neighbor’s bikes in much the same way, while Lending Club helps connect short-term credit needs with investors that are cheaper than credit cards for borrowers and provide a better return than a savings account for investors. Crowdfunding sites also fill a need for short-term investments without the costs of banks or the demands of venture capitalists.
Estimates from PricewaterhouseCoopers show that within 10 years, the five major economy sectors — lending, online staffing, accommodations, transportation and music — will generate more than 50 percent of the total global revenue, up from 5 percent currently.
It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur and to find an innovation-driven alternative to traditional, legacy products and services. And it’s a way to create jobs and make a few extra bucks in the process.
There’s a lot of promise.
But there’s also a lot of room for abuse. Companies collect data as people shop on eBay or catch a Lyft. What happens to that information? Abuses of the public trust are already out there and are receiving attention. A recent New York Times article claims Uber drivers are charging customers a “vomit fee” for $150 if someone throws up in their cars. The issue is that the fee is assigned after the ride — sometimes without an incident occurring — and customers have no recourse to complain.
The job market is going to change as well. It will affect the way we view work and reputation. Instead of putting our faith in a brand, we’re putting it into individuals. The number of non-employer businesses grew from 15 million in 1997 to 24 million in 2014. As more people work from virtual offices at home, they won’t need property insurance, brick-and-mortar maintenance, office supplies or company-providedtechnology. The independent contractor becomes responsible for all those expenses,making it less expensive for shared economy companies to do business. Traditional firms, however, have those costs and more — making hotels more expensive than Airbnb; taxis more costly than Uber.
And algorithms can create price discrimination, while the human factor can lead to racial and gender bias. A Harvard study determined that renters with African-American-sounding names were 16 percent less likely to be accepted by hosts on Airbnb, for example.
There’s also a threat to established industries, which inevitably face more regulation than shared-economy startups. Regulations are reactive, and governments rarely act ahead of issues. The unfair burden of regulations on transportation and hospitality sectors could lead to an unfair advantage for the shared economy marketplace.
The shared economy is a burgeoning part of the global economic base, but it bears watching as disruption threatens established industries and established jobs.