The Sharing Economy Is Here to Stay - and It Changes Everything

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I have a theory that selflessness and bravery aren't all that different.  - Divergent

I recently took a trip to Montana, and noticed something I haven’t seen in many years: hitchhikers. How could they, I thought, risk getting into a car with a complete stranger? And why would any driver take such a gamble? But then I realized that my friends and I do almost the same thing on a near daily basis when we’re in the city—we use Uber, the on-demand and independent taxi service app. Uber is now in 42 countries—a massive expansion since its founding four years ago in San Francisco. Experts, and millennials, say that it’s changed the cab industry forever. What we call the “sharing economy” has made it okay for people to essentially hitchhike for a small, auto-charged fee.

Sharing isn’t new—public transit systems have been around since the 19 century, and libraries much longer—but millennials have taken it to a whole new, tech-driven level. We share our cars, our belongings, our pets, and our homes with total strangers. Sites like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb are drawing in billions in transaction fees. And the sharing economy is growing—new sites like Parking Panda, DogVacay and PeerSpace pop up all the time.

The millennial generation is leading a sea change in what’s important to consumers. Today, it’s about affordability, convenience, and fun.

Here are five reasons why millennials created the sharing economy, and why it isn’t going anywhere:

We trust others: Despite PSAs about stranger danger and self-defense classes designed to protect you from ever-looming alley muggers, millennials trust each other. We trust other people and we trust businesses to keep us, and our personal information, safe. Sixty-nine percent of millennials think it acceptable for their favorite store to track their previous purchases, according to McCann Truth Central. We offer up our personal information online to marketers every day in exchange for some small benefit. Why not offer up, and make a little cash off of, our car or our empty apartment?

It’s regulated: Unlike with hitchhiking, Uber and Lyft drivers are vetted. Beyond standard background and credit checks performed by site administrators, user reviews abound. Millennials have come to rely on reviews for any purchase we make online, and we have the same trust in user reviews for shared rides and rooms.

It makes financial sense: We grew up, and tried to launch careers, in one of the worst financial crises in memory. We know the value of saving a buck, and we’re willing to cut some creative corners to make sure we don’t have to budget hundreds of dollars for a rental car, airport cab or cookie-cutter hotel room.

We hate waste: Sustainability is important to millennials. We value waste reduction, environmentalism and everyday practicality. Especially as more millennials move to concentrated urban centers, it’s becoming wasteful to have a car or leave a bedroom sitting empty. The very concept of sharing these valuable resources is central to an urban, millennial way of life. Say it with me: reduce, reuse, share.

We love experiences (that we can tweet): Millennials want to share their lives on social media, and they want those public lives to look as unique and adventurous as possible. Even when I have the money to spend on a chain hotel, an evening in a repurposed London loft makes for a much cooler Instagram post.

Sharing isn’t going away—just look at how hard millennials, all over the world, are fighting for their right to Uber. Savvy executives and entrepreneurs will continue to think of ways to provide millennials the tech tools that help them share rides, goods, tasks, and information.

Molly Soat is a millennial and a staff writer for Marketing News and Marketing News Weekly. Follower her on Twitter @mollysoat.