The sharing economy is accelerating, and at an astonishing rate. In response to recent economic needs, technological innovations, and cultural changes across the globe, people are now sharing things of value that are otherwise underutilised, and in the process building new networks and communities. Through the internet, cloud services and mobile devices, people now facilitate sharing their homes, their skills, their cars, and much more. Technology has enabled us to reduce transaction costs, making sharing assets cheaper and easier than ever before; and therefore, possible on a much larger scale. Before the internet, renting a car, a bike, or a parking space from someone else was feasible, but was usually time consuming and troublesome. Now websites such as Airbnb, Kayak and Fat Llama match owners and renters using smartphone technology. Tied in with assured online payment systems, it’s easy to see why the love affair for a fast rental economy has grown so rapidly.
The catalyst for online Peer-to-Peer businesses begun with eBay (formally AuctionWeb) in 1995. One of the first items sold was a broken laser pointer for $14.83. AuctionWeb allowed anyone to become a retailer, selling underutilised items, with buyers engaging in competitive bidding for a desired item; be furniture, beanie babies or broken laser pointers! eBay has since grown from being a strictly P2P marketplace to being dominated by professional ‘power sellers’. However, confidence in online transactions between P2P was obtuse to begin with, but platforms such as PayPal and rate and review forums gave buyers additional leverage to fully embrace a sharing economy with confidence. This has, tied in with technological advances and smartphones, allowed individuals to act as sellers of taxi services (Uber), or boutique hotel (Airbnb) as and when it suits them.
Peer-to-peer transactions generated by the UK’s most prominent sharing economy grew by 60%, or £8 billion in 2017. By 2025, it is projected that total P2P transactions in the UK sharing economy could reach £140 billion, yet again proving the progressive nature of today’s sharing economy. The idea of a system built around the sharing of human and physical resources has enveloped society. Businesses from the UK and across the globe are no longer looking inward, but outward towards Peer-to-Peer participation, especially within communities.
How can the sharing economy be integrated within our communities? Ideas such as community bikes that are shared and utilised between residents are already used across cities in the form of ‘Boris’ bikes and Jump. This can be extended to cars, which are readily available within communities for daily hire via an app. The advantage of a ‘community carpool’ extends to greater availability of cars, dependant on the needs of that particular journey, in turn offering a greater choice for communities. Residence can also have access to everyday items such as power tools and gardening equipment, which can be ‘community owned’ and shared between residents with user friendly booking slots via mobile phones. The shift from owning to accessing objects reduces product waste on the environment and the energy to produce these. The possibility of items available to share in this manner are endless; with the potential to fundamentally change the way communities and consumers operate around the world.