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Thoughts

Collaborative consumption: ownership vs. access or how to get free coffee

— Culture & Observations —

Over the weekend Jonathan’s card, an experiment in social commerce and collaborative consumption, was one of the most popular topics in the media space, at least in the media I consume. Sadly, even more popular than the London riots. For those who don’t know about the project, Jonathan Stark, a mobile app consultant, decided to give everyone on the planet access to his Starbucks mobile app code and invite us to have a free cup of coffee on him, or make a contribution. As of yesterday afternoon, $3,651 had been spent on the card, which started with a balance of $30, and over 170 people had made donations.

This experiment got me thinking about the power of collaborative consumption and how corporations can adapt their business models and offerings to reach people who value access more than ownership.

The idea of public sharing of products isn’t new. Public libraries have been operating under this model for centuries. However, with the rise of peer-to-peer sharing, we started sharing our information. Peer-to-peer networks also transformed our ability to share physical items and that was the beginning of collaborative consumption as we know it today.

The term “collaborative consumption” was coined by Ray Algar in 2007 and the last few years provided the perfect mix of circumstances for the movement to grow: the recession, increased awareness of personal environmental impact and the rise of mindful consumption, more people adopting a minimalist approach to life, and of course the boom of social networks which made sharing extremely easy.

WHAT’S MINE IS YOURS from rachel botsman on Vimeo.

Some entrepreneurs caught on this culture shift from valuing access more than valuing ownership early and based their entire models on this movement. Netflix, Zipcar, eBay, Airbnb, despite its recent PR crisis, are just a few of the examples of companies providing access or enabling peer-to-peer sharing and making profits. But, I am far from thinking or suggesting that all of us should start new companies operating under this model or a variation of it. I am more interested in how existing corporations can leverage the different collaborative consumption systems: product service systems, redistribution markets and collaborative lifestyles.

Some corporations, like Peugeot (Mu), BMW (DriveNow), Volkswagen (Quicar) and Daimler (car2go), are embracing collaborative consumption and providing new services that are increasing their profits. Another example is Alta Planning + Design with its Alta Bicycle Share program which most recently launched New Balance Hubway, a bicycle sharing program in Boston. Not to mention the rapid growth rental platforms in the luxury fashion space are experiencing.

Other companies are facilitating and enabling sharing to build trust and relationships with existing and potential customers. The Kindle Lending Club, which doesn’t make money for Kindle directly, is a great example. As a participant in the Kindle Lending Club, if one day I decide to buy a book I am more likely to do so from Amazon than from B&N.

Lastly, companies can easily engage in redistribution market schemes and sell or donate pre-owned goods. Best Buy’s Buy Back program has huge potential in this area. Best Buy understands that early adopters buy gadgets, play with them for a few months and toss them away in a closet/resell them/donate them/gift them and wait for the next new gadget. Although the program is currently incentivizing only loyalty among consumers, it can easily grow into a market redistribution scheme. Karma points  for Best Buy for reducing waste.

Only opportunities ahead. As a professional, I think collaboration is the future: from collaborative production and co-creation to collaborative consumption and crowdfunding. As a consumer, I am very excited to see how organizations adapt to mindful and collaborative consumption and start producing higher quality goods, offering various new services and utility and reducing waste.

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