FEATURE18 July 2014
FEATURE18 July 2014
The sharing economy is causing fear and disruption as it pushes to establish new business models, warned a panel of experts and business owners in the field of collaborative consumption.
However, they also had to address the criticism that it is about digitisation and bypassing regulation rather than being about genuine collaborative consumption, at yesterday’s ( 17th July) Activate:London 2014 event run by The Guardian.
Benita Matofska, founder and chief sharer, CompareandShare.com (pictured top right) said: “The regulation will catch up with the tech. These companies aren’t representing traditional industries, they are opening access. There is a lot of fear; it’s disruptive and changing the way business is done. Traditional companies are terrified — and they should be. It’s about a sustainable economy and change for good.”
And only a month or so after bringing London’s black cab drivers out on strike, Uber’s general manager, UK & Ireland, Jo Bertram (pictured bottom right) tackled the regulation issue head on. “There’s no way we’re replacing black taxis; we’re actually increasing the market. And we’re not bypassing regulation; we’re fully compliant with private hire regulation but much of it was written before the arrival of smartphones,” she said.
Arnaud Bertrand, CEO, HouseTrip similarly questioned the lack of regulation: “The main argument is about bypassing fire regulation but what I had to go through in terms of fire regulations in my home [was extensive]. Most arguments from hotels are completely ridiculous.”
And while the black cab drivers were complaining about Uber’s arrival, their strike only proved to raise awareness of the app. “On the day, we had 850% higher sign ups than on the previous day. We have added a Black Taxi app and that day was a good day to launch the app,” said Bertram. “Uber is another choice; from the consumer side it brings down prices, on the owner side there’s more income from their asset. Uber allows drivers to make more money in a shorter amount of time,” she added.
Others talked about their businesses increasing choice. Anna Bance, co-founder, girlmeetsdress.com said her dress rental business did not face opposition from the fashion companies. “Ninety-five per cent of our customers try a brand for the first time on our site.”
But the question was also raised as to whether collaborative consumption merely provides those with assets with a way of making money, rather than helping people who either do not have assets or could not access them.
“It’s about access for all, not just the middle classes. A true sharing economy company has to have a purpose at its heart,” said Matofska and she cited Fareshare as an example of this.
“It’s about access for all, not just the middle classes. A true sharing economy company has to have a purpose at its heart”
“Waste doesn’t have to be a cost it can be turned into a revenue stream. Fareshare delivers 10m meals to people who wouldn’t otherwise have access. There are real examples and brilliant examples to deliver real social value,” she added.
“Uber is open to everyone and we have a fare split option. It provides an opportunity for the drivers. Data in US shows we reach under-sourced areas. We have to take that responsibility seriously,” said Bertram.
And HouseTrip’s Bertrand explained that his principle with the business was that “it shouldn’t be rented short-term where there’s a long-term housing issue”.
Going forward there are many issues still to be addressed, not least the requirement for the major global insurance industries to work out how this activity can be underwritten. “People need insurance policies in place relevant to insuring this economy,” said Matofska.
But perhaps the surest sign that this nascent socio-economic system is growing in size and importance is that some of the bigger, more established companies are adding elements of this model to their businesses. Marks & Spencer partnered with Oxfam with its shwopping – buy one, donate one – clothes shopping scheme; LiquidSpace is Marriott’s temporary workspace and office rental option and DIY retailer B&Q established a community social network Streetclub.