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People Participate In The Sharing Economy Because It’s Cheap And Convenient

You can talk all you want about the revolutionary idea of people owning less, but all people care about is saving money.

People Participate In The Sharing Economy Because It’s Cheap And Convenient
Kinetic Imagery/Shutterstock

There are lots of feel-good reasons to participate in the sharing economy: It’s environmentally sound to share resources instead of buying them all yourself, for instance, and there’s a neighborly feeling you get from sharing (your apartment, your time, etc). But that’s not what motivates most people to participate. It’s all about cheap prices and availability.

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A study from the University of Pittsburgh pitched an imaginary car-sharing service to 300 drivers, asking whether they would sign up for the service, use the cars, and be at all concerned about availability. They were also quizzed on the environmental and social aspects of sharing. Data on the fictional service was scraped from a real car-sharing company.

The result: Drivers were most interested if they thought there were cost savings to be had. Availability of the cars was also of paramount importance. Everything else–like the environment–didn’t matter as much.

It makes sense; who cares about the environmental benefits if the cars are never available? “Consumers know if companies are advertising that everyone is using their services, there may not be a product available for them when they want to use it,” explained Cait Poynor Lamberton, an assistant professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh, in an interview with Futurity. “There is a fine line between saying something is popular and not letting consumers feel as though they are losing access.”

In studies conducted by the researchers using different fictional sharing companies (a bike-share program and a cell phone minute-sharing program), they found that people didn’t want to participate with people who were like themselves–i.e. with commuters who would be on their same bike-sharing schedule. The study concludes: “…beyond cost-related benefits of sharing, the perceived risk of scarcity related to sharing is a central determinant of its attractiveness. The results suggest that managers can use perceptions of personal and sharing partners’ usage patterns to affect risk perceptions and subsequent propensity to participate in a commercial sharing system.”

In other words, don’t plug your sharing startup’s environmental friendliness. Just make sure everyone knows how affordable and convenient it is.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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