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Can The Sharing Economy End Discrimination?

Ratings are a crucial part of a successful sharing economy, but do they extend beyond that?

Can The Sharing Economy End Discrimination?
[Image: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH via Shutterstock]

Traditionally, ratings help establish a business’s reputation to make potential customers’ decisions easier. They answer questions like, “Where do I want to stay?” “What movie should I see?” and “What restaurant should we try this week?” It’s a feature that consumers have come to expect and rely on.

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But with the influx of sharing economy services like Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, and PivotDesk, reviews are taken a step further by business taking part in reviewing its customers. The review process is now a two-way street.

As we continue to discuss the impact this could have on our businesses and customers, we are also starting to realize the societal impact.

Few will admit to it, but we’ve all experienced discrimination in one form or another. Whether you’re Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman shopping in Beverly Hills, a group of teens walking into a fine dining restaurant, or a non-Caucasian male trying to hail a cab, discrimination is rampant in the service industry. If you don’t have typical clothes, the right friends, drive the right car, or live in the best area, you’ve experienced it. We are all, at some point or another, treated differently based on whom we are perceived to be.

Service providers that judge and categorize their customers–intentionally or not–would seem to think that this judgmental practice works in their favor. But I know from real experience–on both sides of the table–that this is just not true. I’ve seen many examples of people who fit the stereotype of the “model” customer leaving crap tips, negotiating margins down to zero, returning products without care, and demanding service levels that are not attainable.

So what happens when ratings work both ways?

When I use Uber, I always rate the driver based on my experience. And I assume those ratings are factored into whether drivers are shown available customers sooner. But I also need to assume the driver is rating me. I assume (not confirmed with Uber in any way here) that my rating as a passenger effects whether or not an Uber driver chooses my fare over others.

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But what am I being rated on? Clearly I am not being rated on my fare, as this would be the same for everyone. What I’m being rated on is how I interact personally and professionally with the driver and whether or not I’m cognizant of their time, or if I make them wait. Would he or she want to drive me again?

As a customer on Airbnb, I am rated as a guest as well as a host. My rating determines whether a future host wants me in his home or not. Do I get access to a better place to stay because I am rated higher? What would happen if restaurants and other businesses rated customers across the industry? Would this make consumers more accountable for their actions and interactions?

Your rating is beginning to determine the level of service you experience, which doesn’t relate to your skin color, checkbook, religion, sexual preference, or color of socks.

As more and more sharing economy companies introduce ratings on both sides of the transaction, will those ratings change how we judge our customers? Will they force decisions based on how good we are as consumers? How good we are as companies? How good we are as people?

As we evolve new business models that rely on both sides of the market to work together, can we move just a little closer toward mutual respect that isn’t influenced by arbitrary and meaningless judgments?

I hope so.

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And please feel free to rate this.

David Mandell is the CEO of PivotDesk.