Sharing is caring in the future disruptive economy

Author Rebecca CrookPublished 4 Min Read

The sharing economy that threatened to disrupt primarily the leisure sector in 2015 saw its fair share of challenges in 2016. Airbnb, Uber and Deliveroo have all come up against legal and regulatory challenges that threaten their very business models, the very things that made them disruptive in the first place. Also referred to as the gig economy, it will be interesting to see in 2017 how the roadblocks officialdom put in their place are overcome because that will surely define how ‘gigging’ will continue to disrupt in the future.

But that doesn’t mean that more traditional companies can rest on their laurels, safe in the knowledge that their way of life is being protected by red tape. The consumer has already had a taste of a cheaper, more efficient and more digital way of doing things. We will not be reverting to the good old days whatever happens.

And the Uberisation continues. What started as community initiatives – borrow my leafblower postings on groups on Gumtree, Craigslist and Facebook – is being adopted by corporates. After all, consumers will persist in sharing so if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. What if Black & Decker started selling to groups of people rather than individuals, given that many home tools are hardly ever used.

Simple micropayment apps to borrow people’s personal goods are already cropping up all over the place. JustPark allows homeowners to rent out a driveway space to commuters frustrated by full and over-priced station car parks. Three to five pounds a day may seem a nominal amount but for a piece of land that the owner is paying for but clearly not getting the use of, regular use over the year pays for Christmas or a family break in the sun.

In November, Electrolux told the FT it was exploring the idea of creating a ‘rent my washing machine’ app. With the growth in smarthome capability, the ability of machines to communicate with their users (Your spin cycle is done) means breaking down barriers between people without any of that icky having to actually talk to each other.

The sharing or gig economy is breaking down the boundaries of personal space with the mobile acting as digital gatekeeper. Consumers are inviting strangers into their intimate worlds, squeezing every drop out of the possessions they own and saving themselves the hassles of buying items they don’t.

Changing our views as rabid consumers of ‘stuff’ is one consequence of the connected, sharing economy but we think there are some deeper, much further-reaching impacts that should elevate scrutiny of disruptive players to Government level.

No-one will deny that the UK’s infrastructure as a whole is under strain. Roads are clogged, houses are skyrocketing in price due to scarcity and the NHS is on its knees. Is it too much to suggest that the disruptors might have a part to play?

Certainly we’re seeing nuggets of potential here with Uber, already having introduced its UberPool service. Of course, the consumer gets value. For the minor inconvenience of not enjoying sole occupancy of a cab and waiting a few more minutes for it to arrive, the cost of their journey is slashed, often to little more than the cost of a bus journey. But putting four customers in a single taxi takes three cars, burning three times as much fuel, off the same route. Where could we extrapolate this to? Will we have UberPool coaches taking commuters off the motorways and reducing strain on the train?

What about housing? The relatively small proportion of home-owning Baby Boomers might enjoy watching their house earn more than they do but what of the young families and single professionals who face a lifetime of renting? Or the elderly ‘houseblockers’ who would love to downsize but there are no suitable houses to buy?

Could 2017 see the start of the sustainable self-build becoming more accessible? The premium Huf Haus could trickle down to mass market and join flat pack experts Ikea and BoKlok. Peer to peer land buying and selling that can unravel the strangulating red tape surrounding planning will overhaul the permission process and free up badly needed affordable housing. In December, Willerby Innovations released plans for install-in-a-day bungalows accommodating up to a family of four and costing only £60,000 – the average price of a single storey extension in the south of England.

We’ve been talking about the potential for wearables to improve consumer health for some time. Insurance company Pru already integrates wearable use into its Vitality app and modulates premiums for customers who prove to be more active as a result. But what of the connected home being able to relieve pressure on the NHS. As Brexiteers were so keen to remind us (and less keen to follow through with) the NHS could do with £350m a week just to keep going.

What if disruptive technologies could reduce that strain. It’s clear the current models aren’t working. Missed hospital appointments costs around £4m a year, add another £1m for missed GP appointments., More than three and a half million visits to A&E are unnecessary costing £290m and elderly care homes are closing at the rate of 1,500 a year as profits dip 40% but costs rise 30%. A solution is well overdue. Could the connected home help the elderly stay in their own homes more safely and for longer? Could wearables improve wellness management for those with chronic conditions?

If the last two years of the sharing economy have been characterised by ‘build it, we’ll work out the details later’ (or some might say, don’t ask permission, just apologise after), 2017 will see a degree of oversight hit these fast-moving disruptors. There is no doubt that this is needed. Just because it’s clever doesn’t mean you get to run roughshod over hard-won workers’ rights. But just because the rules and regulators are stepping in, we’re not going to see a reversal of this trend. Everyone from corporate to public services should be working to understand where disruption is coming from and what it will mean. It really is a case of change or die.

Rebecca Crook | Chief Marketing OfficerShare article |
Rebecca Crook | Chief Marketing OfficerShare article |