Are the sharing economy and the “Uber effect” just a fad or a revolution in consumption and business models? Only time will tell. In the meantime, one thing is sure: certain P2P digital platforms are challenging some of the long-established principles of the labour market.

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The “Observatoire de l’ubérisation”, a French non-profit organisation consisting of 25 leading figures including digital entrepreneurs, economists, politicians, anthropologists and  sociologists, was recently created for the purpose of devising new solutions – social, fiscal, legal and economic – in line with the “uberisation” of the economy.

This new phenomenon has sent shockwaves through society – particularly in the case of Uber itself, which has caused outrage among traditional taxi drivers.  For Uber, AirBnB, eBay, Spotify and Doctor on Demand,  to name but a few, have demonstrated new, more flexible ways of delivering and consuming goods and services, based on sharing or trading between individuals or freelancers. The only costs the companies themselves cover are the digital transaction and marketing solutions.

Digital platforms and sociological shifts

For the majority of people working in the new economy, this system is “an economy of fending for oneself,” as one user of a French peer-to-peer website for lending DIY equipment puts it in online magazine LSA. In a country with strongly-established labour laws, the Uber phenomenon is seen as a potential threat to the stability of employment and the various associated benefits (insurance, access to training, etc.) At the root of this “individualisation of work’’ are of course various economic factors, but also sociological ones: as Marie-Claire Carrère-Gée, President of the French government’s Employment and Orientation organisation, points out:

“A number of sociological factors come into play, such as the increasing need for independence in employment and the freedom to manage one’s time. The explosion of new technologies has also facilitated the increase of ways of working whereby the job itself is not performed on the employer’s premises.”

“Access is the new ownership”

The rise of the sharing economy also addresses consumers’ changing aspirations and values, as highlighted in a report by PwC, namely: cutting expenses, convenience, limiting the carbon footprint (76% of consumers agree that the sharing economy is better for the environment), trust and building a sense of community.  Four in five consumers agree that there are real advantages to renting over owning, and adults aged 18 to 24 are nearly twice as likely as those aged 25 and older to say that access is the new ownership.

Having your own car is so 2010…

This movement has prompted some traditional players to diversify and adopt a sharing economy model. For example, back in 2010, Peugeot launched its Mu by Peugeot rental service, whilst BMW joined forces with car rental firm Sixt in 2011 to launch carsharing service DriveNow.

In fact, owning a car is no longer the status symbol it was – it’s virtually the opposite. And the automotive industry, according to PwC, is “just a slice of the pie — today, it’s all about the mobility industry.” As Shelby Clark, CEO of Peers.org, explains: “I think the biggest change that we’re seeing here is that people are choosing to buy mobility.”

Products, customer relations, legislation: what needs to change

“If market forces play out as expected, quality becomes less heavily juxtaposed against price—in fact, the durability and resale value of higher quality goods may make them a more economical investment in the long run. That shift, in turn, could put the squeeze on “cheap chic.” PwC, The Sharing Economy

The sharing economy is driving a shift in products and services, making them leaner, more personalised, easily-accessed via high-performance digital platforms, user and mobile-friendly. For PwC, it should also lead traditional players to focus more on quality and durability of their products and optimise customer relationships.

The sharing collaborative thus raises a number of issues: changing consumer needs, insurance, guarantees for providers and consumers, tax, competition and market rigidity. Olivier Mathiot, CEO of PriceMinister-Rakuten, believes that both models – collaborative and traditional – can and should mutually benefit from one another: in an interview with French financial daily Les Echos, Mathiot said: “The two economies need to meet each other halfway: the traditional one needs to be more flexible, whilst the players of the new one need to shake off their ‘cowboy’ image.”

Sources: PWC