The sharing economy: will your customers swap ownership for ‘access-ship’?

William Higham on the sharing economy

A perfect storm of economics and technology is behind a powerful movement of consumers being happy to swap ownership to ‘access-ship’, says William Higham, founder and chief executive of consumer trends consultancy Next Big Thing

I sold my entire CD collection last week: 2,000 CDs. It was traumatic, but I couldn’t justify keeping them. Since the advent of iTunes all I’d done on buying a CD was remove the shrink-wrap, upload the disc to my computer then place it on a shelf. Since subscribing to Spotify last year, I’ve not even done that: I simply stream the music I want. The launch of Apple Music in June was the final straw.

It’s just one manifestation of a major trend: away from ownership towards ‘access-ship’. It’s a perfect storm of economics and technology: post-recession desire for thrift meeting growing
demand for convenience, empowered by new time- and space-saving technologies.

Sharing, on-demand, subscription-access and the ‘All You Can Eat’ (AYCE) trend are growing as demand for manufactured goods falls. Virtual film and TV libraries have become the norm. AYCE has shifted from restaurants to dominate travel and telecoms. The Week magazine has just announced 95 per cent of its revenue comes from renewal subscriptions. And car sharing and clubs such as Zipcar are increasing. PwC believes the UK sharing economy will be valued at £9bn by 2025.

It’s down to an attitude change. Media reports on house rental growth frequently describe those involved as “having to” rent, as if by definition it’s the worse option. Yes, economics has a role to play. But actually many young people just don’t rate ownership as highly as their parents. They’re the mobile generation: for them, life is about shrinkage and portability. They might treasure a few objects, but typically see access as more convenient than ownership: less ‘stuff’ to carry around.

Those who say “but people naturally like to own things” need to reconsider. When I grew up, owning a car or house was a status symbol, a rite of passage – but for the young today, not so much. Most don’t even own their most prized ‘possession’ – their phone. Access-ship is being driven by a radical attitudinal shift. That’s typically the sign a new trend is here to stay.


About author

William Higham

William Higham

William Higham is the founder and CEO of consumer trends consultancy Next Big Thing.

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