The sharing economy: do you get it?

Written by Lisa Stanley Mann on 25th May 2016

Mention the words “sharing economy” to someone, and you will most likely get a blank stare back.

That’s because three quarters of us are not part of the “sharing economy”, according to new research, while only 23 per cent have even the foggiest what it is and have already participated.

So what is it?

The sharing economy refers to “sharing” goods, services and skills, through community-based networks and platforms. We’ve put it in inverted commas because, while it once genuinely meant sharing things, like your tomato harvest or power drills, without any money changing hands, “sharing” no longer comes for free.

The definition of the sharing economy has expanded somewhat to include sites like Airbnb, Taskrabbit and Uber. These “sharing” sites actually involve people just charging other people for services that they can offer personally – usually, their homes, cars or stuff they have made. But it is peer-to-peer, rather than company-to-customer and is therefore, in theory, a way to avoid waste and to cut costs.

The research, from TopCashback.co.uk, said that the “savvy sharers” who make up one quarter of the UK population embrace the potential of the sharing economy and in doing so, net themselves up to £779 a year in savings.

In the other camp, 77% of the population are wary and distrustful of the new platforms, says TopCashback.

The most popular services are house sharing platforms such as Airbnb and CouchSurfing (62 per cent), followed by online market places including Etsy and Vinted (51 per cent) and car sharing offering such as Zipcar (27 per cent).

Rather than benevolence, money is the biggest motivator to use a sharing site. More than half (51 per cent) of savvy sharers signed up to sharing economy platforms either to save or make money. The majority (85 per cent) of this group use platforms as a customer too.