Collaborative Consumption is set to gather momentum thanks to the restrictive economic climate and growing ethical concerns about the way we consume which make traditional ownership both less achievable and less attractive. Now innovative technologies are creating the most effective peer-to-peer market places yet.
Signing up to a car-club, organising a home swap holiday, paying to borrow a drill from someone local and renting a designer dress for a special occasion are all are examples of collaborative consumption. Ownership is over-rated and value is now to be found when you lend, rent, share and swap.
What can I swap and share?
What can't you swap and share? Whatever your accommodation needs, you can already holiday the collaborative way; lining up a stylish home swap holiday through Love Home Swap (www.lovehomeswap.com), staying in someone's spare room (Wimdu.com) or even just crashing on someone's couch (Couchsurfing.com).
Transport offers even more possibilities; whether you want a car (Zipcar.co.uk), a bike (Byke.mobi) or even a taxi companion (Taxifortwo.co.uk). From toys and tools to land and even loans - there are companies which will let you rent what you need as easily as borrowing a book from the library, or sites which will put you in touch with people who are willing to share what they have.
This is no altruistic hippy ideal - it's a lucrative business model and a growing business sector. Investors are also alive to the potential and profitability of the sector: Love Home Swap closed funding from MMC Ventures earlier this year, while Airbnb acquired Crashpadder for an undisclosed (but reportedly very significant) sum. And where there's money to be made - there's space for start-ups, meaning the number of collaborative businesses is increasing daily. Great news for us as consumers who are being offered more and more purse-friendly alternatives all the time.
Why would I swap when I can buy?
The simple answer is that collaborative consumption makes economic sense - swapping or sharing is cheaper than buying. There's also the ethical argument; collaborative consumption by its nature means less waste - it's making the most of our assets, making them work harder. At a more philosophical level, swapping and sharing is enriching - consumers enjoy not only engaging with each other around the world, but also transacting with 'real people' instead of faceless operators and retailers. And many of the collaborative models rely on offline encounters too - sharing your home or car must be the ultimate in real-world sociability!
We have been consuming in the same way for hundreds of years, so it's understandable that people may take a little longer to convert to a more collaborative model. The thing that's really working in favour of the flourishing of collaborative consumption is the kinds of businesses who are pioneering it: young, dynamic, socially engaged and inspiring - it's a business as well as life trend to watch. This week some of the most exciting businesses in the collaborative space gathered offline for the first time at the launch of Collaborative Consumption Europe, to share their experiences and discuss what's in store for this rapidly rising sector.
Debbie Wosskow is the founder of Collaborative Consumption Europe and CEO/Founder of www.LoveHomeSwap.com. The next CCE session will take place in London in June 2012.
The Love Home Swap website is www.LoveHomeSwap.com