While smaller enterprises nibble at the edges, Big Business will take a big bite into the Collaborative Consumption market,says Helen Goulden
AirBnB, TaskRabbit, ZipCar, Boris Bikes - there are some iconic businesses driving the growth in Collaborative Consumption, aka The Sharing Economy.
But what would it look like if a major high street retailer decided to rent, not sell, its products? 2013 will see at least three High Street mainstream retail outlets make a play into the rental market - in addition to a couple of left field global corporates looking to make a sideways leap in to new kinds of sustainable businesses.
Why will they do it? Commentators are convinced that the peer-to-peer (P2P) rental market will be a $25+billion industry by 2016. But while peer-to-peer space and car sharing is maturing, there's a notable lack of success stories when it comes to sharing of other kinds of things. Convenience, culture, cost - all play their part and we're a long way from it being a social norm to rent a dress from your neighbour rather than nipping into H&M. And for every brilliant new P2P start-up idea there's a Big Business just waiting to step in. Look at how Amazon launched its text book rental service after Chegg.com proved it was a decent market to tap - or how BMW, Peugeot, Daimler and Volkswagon are all surfing the car-sharing zeitgeist.
One fantastic knock on effect of this could be the beginning of the end for planned obsolescence. If retail outlets shift their focus on extending the lifecycle of their products to maximise the rental value, then at some point they're going to push that need for greater durability down their supply chains. Feel fantastical? Maybe, but if nine billion people are going to consume at the rate we consume at six billion, there are very few options on the table.
But are consumers ready to transform their consumption habits; ready to experience rather than own, share rather than buy? We're certainly more comfortable paying for access over ownership in the realm of music and films; but does it really extend to other consumables? Well, if some major family brand names with the trust, customer base, capital, infrastructure and distribution channels decide Collaborative Consumption is worth bringing to their consumers, they're certainly the best placed to make it work at a national scale. Toys, anything to do with babies & toddlers, high value luxury items and any other kind of occasional use products is a market in the making.
Final thought? A new kind of hyper local, branded, physical hub for sharing - facilitated through tech - is definitely on the cards...