car-hire Photo Steve DavisOne of the emerging consequences of the ‘social customer’ era is increased chatter between consumers.

And in turn this is leading to some consumers sharing products and services among themselves, cutting out the retailer or service provider.

In a market definition report for the Altimeter Group, Jeremiah Owyan notes there are three market forces leading to this new economic phase:

  • Societal drivers include increasing population density and desire for sustainability and community
  • Economic drivers include a shift towards valuing access to goods and service more than ownership for altruistic reasons and a desire to free up financial resources
  • Technology drivers include increasing use of mobile devices, micro payment systems and social networking to tie it all together

Signs of the collaborative economy

Here are a few emerging websites around the world that Jeremiah cites as examples of this emerging trend (note, few of these operate in Australia but they give you an idea of what is around the corner for us):

  • Uber.com is a car sharing site
  • Getmaid.com lets you Instantly book home cleaning and pay for it electronically
  • Baby plays.com toy rental service to save your house from clutter
  • Rent the runway.com dresses and accessories for rent
  • Tool spinner.com find tools in your neighbourhood
  • Hey neighbor.com create your local neighbourhood
  • Vayable.com find unique experiences when you travel
  • Grub with us.com never eat alone
  • Open desks.com find share and manage places to meet
  • Prosper.com connecting people who want to lend with people who want to borrow
  • Taxi.to share your taxi
  • Free cycle.com change the world one gift at a time
  • 99dresses.com share your wardrobe

The bad news

At first glance, this development is a terrible development for many businesses and service providers.

For example, a clothing shop would expect to suffer losses with people able to easily share dresses, a hardware store would brace for lost sales as people shared tools, and some sectors would fear the worst with uber.com.

Furthermore, the report suggests government regulators are being caught flat footed as people begin sharing items like cars with ‘strangers’.

The good news

I see opportunities for businesses on two fronts.

Firstly, surveying your own marketplace for any services that are ‘competing’ with you or ‘disrupting’ your business model might uncover some new ways to reach new customers.

For example, imagine a dress shop using 99dresses to ‘share’ old or sample dresses? This could introduce them to new clients.

Or imagine a business using Open Desk to rent out some space or, better still, a cafe listing a special table through these services to get known.

Secondly, noting these inclinations within the community or marketplace, your business might find an opportunity for harnessing the energy and playing a role in the collaborative economy.

As the report suggests, smart organisations will find a way to stay in the centre of the sector, perhaps by helping bring consumers or ‘end users’ together.

The report cites BMW making cars available lour short hire.

I could also foresee a role for companies playing a management and maintenance role, for a fee, to make the collaboration run smoothly.

Whether collaboration is on your doorstep yet or not, there is no time like the present to give some thought to what role we need your organisation to play when your time comes. Or what alternatives might draw us away from you.

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