Not all that long ago, (as in less than 10 years ago) we all used to buy everything we owned. I mean everything: cars, bikes, music, clothes, hotel accommodation, even dogs and cats.
Literally anything we ever needed in life we bought and sold because that’s just the way society worked and there was no other option available.
So isn’t it bonkers then to think how far the old traditional concept of trading (buying and selling), which was the rule of society since the year dot has now changed so much that actually buying anything at all is becoming optional as a result of something quite naff-ly called “the sharing economy”?
So why sharing as opposed to buying?
In my opinion, the concept of sharing is just another element of the wider shift away from anything to do with the mainstream. Or maybe it’s simply a further symptom of “progress” – that “thing” which makes every generation a little more advanced and more dynamic than the previous one.
This is the age where the end user is in part the co-creator. It is the age where ordinary everyday people, as opposed to big corporations, have the tools to change all of the traditional rules that society was formerly governed by. It is the age where everyone questions everything and this has led society as a whole to seek out new ways of doing old things in a new way that turns tradition on its head.
So this new concept of sharing, community buying and the notion of seeking alternative buying options outside of the main retail channels is really just an extension of the “disruption model” which, aided by technology, has completely changed the way in which we view and perceive brands and indeed the entire consumption process.
So where exactly is this sharing idea in evidence?
Pretty quickly the notion of sharing is becoming increasingly evident everywhere – even in markets where we would never even have considered that anything other than buying / owning was an option.
Where once everyone who needed a car had no option (well, other than the option of renting from a car hire company which though technically an option wasn’t a viable option in reality), but to go out and physically buy one.
But now, thanks to the concept of interruption as an economic and marketing concept for the current generation, car ownership – though still alive now – is no longer mandatory. In other words, not owning a car is no longer a barrier to being able to drive.
Car sharing / pooling (www.liftshare.com) , instant access to taxis at the tap of a button on a smartphone, (www.uber.com) and the imminent arrival of driverless cars, (you know where right?) all mean that although car ownership is still desirable for most people, it’s surely only a matter of time before people begin to see these other options as much more cost effective?
And when you consider that according to Forbes magazine (http://fortune.com/2016/03/13/cars-parked-95-percent-of-time/) cars are actually parked for 95% of the time, (think about it, we work for 8 hours, sleep for 8 hours and are at home for a number of hours besides!) it’s hardly a stretch to think that buying cars is actually not very sensible.
Once upon a time (again, up to very recently), a combination of social snobbery and traditional consumer habits meant that when it came to buying any sort of clothing (aside for vintage for obvious reasons), only brand new was acceptable.
But how things have changed.
Suddenly it seems that buying used products is where it’s at; where once second hand clothes shops were hidden away off the high street, now kitsch is king and buying second hand is much admired.
In fact, attitudes have changed to such an extent that there is now a plethora of online stores specialising in second hand (sorry, I mean “pre loved”) wedding dresses and accessories where previously there were just “charity shops” for those who couldn’t afford new.
So why the change? Well I think it’s simply that society has moved on and this is where it has taken us to. In this era of disruption, you could argue that this shift in consumer buying behaviour is simply a form of disruption, albeit on a slightly different scale and in a slightly different arena.
Where once accommodation was automatically taken to mean either a hotel guesthouse or B&B, now there are loads of different sharing & community type options that hotels are often no longer a consideration for people looking either for something more interesting, more challenging, more authentic or simply more cost effective.
While AirBnB is the obvious preferred alternative-to-a-hotel accommodation option, it does of course still cost money – albeit generally much less than a hotel might cost, particularly in the case of a family or large group.
However, there are actually real, authentic accommodation websites offering free accommodation options. Couch surfing for example, (www.couchsurfing.com) or even home exchange / home swap websites (www.lovehomeswap.com ) designed for families looking to take a holiday free of the cost of accommodation.
Ok so perhaps the area of accommodation, unlike that of cars or clothes, is not likely to offer long term alternatives to home ownership or property rental, the range of options are now so great that the traditional tourist accommodation options of hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses, are going to come under increasing pressure from the ongoing evolution of the sector.
Think personal finance
In the past, banks were the only show in town when it came to borrowing money. Business start ups and your personal dreams lived and died by what the bank manager said. That made banks (not to mention bank managers) pretty powerful right?
Well yes it did, but that was then.
Now, whether it’s starts ups in need of some seed capital, (in need of seed, nice tagline!) community or not for profit organisations needing donations to fund an initiative or simply an individual looking for investment opportunities that he can have complete control over, crowd-funding options are plentiful (www.crowdcube.com,www.kickstarter.com, to name but two) and is increasingly being seen as a mainstream option, just as banks were 10 years ago.
Think even animals ….
Yes, dogs. I know. Who’d have thought that dogs would crop up in a piece about buying behaviours?
But of course, over the past decade or so, it has become possible to enjoy the benefits of having a dog, without having to actually own one.
I mean let’s face it, dogs as needy and very loving animals, require looking after 24/7 but as our lives get busier (wasn’t technology supposed to make us work less and have more down time?), many of us just don’t have the time to be full time dog owners.
And of course there are others too…
The above are just some examples of how traditional purchasing / ownership models have completely changed. But the truth is there are examples of this phenomenon everywhere you look.
From finding someone to do something (anything!) you need done (www.taskrabbit.co.uk), to buy and sell marketplaces (www.ebay.com /www.gumtree.com), to DIY property selling (www.housesimple.com), to free mobile phone messaging (www.watsapp.com), our need to buy goods and services from established brands is diminishing all the time.
Because the fact is that where once consumers bought brand names (literally that is what they bought), now the brand name is just one small factor. Instead, consumers are choosing the brand that best meets their precise needs, most earn their trust, and feels most authentic and genuine.
But most of all, consumers are increasingly buying from the brand which offers the most unique and the most compelling story.
Because at the end of the day, we all buy stories. Stories are what create engagement, stories are what make brands different, stories are the only real difference between brands whose products are often more or less identical.