Sharing services, which span a variety of industries and capabilities, saw a dramatic rise in popularity throughout 2014. Established companies such as car-sharer, Lyft; money-sharer, LendingClub; and space-sharer, Airbnb; dominated news coverage as they announced expansions, new business offerings and in one case, even an initial public offering. In fact, a recent survey found that nearly three-quarters of smartphone users are open to embracing sharing services. As 2015 progresses, consumers should expect to see an increase in popularity for these sharing platforms, which found strong footholds solving the everyday problems of average Americans.
Easy to Adopt, Easier to Use
Sharing services are popular for a reason -- they thrive on simplicity, and greatly help to provide options for customers, alleviating common annoyances that have long irked consumers. In the case of space-sharing platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway, which allow you to book overnight stays at homes and apartments, empowered customers are able to avoid expensive hotel prices at major travel destinations through unique shareable offerings. Just how popular are these services? Consider Airbnb, whose listings rose by 54 percent from 300,000 to 550,000 between 2013 and 2014. Food-sharer, Blue Apron, is another great example of a company that targeted an everyday annoyance - grocery shopping - and simplified it by delivering a week's worth of pre-measured, high-quality ingredients for dinners to people's doorsteps. The company, as of 2013, was fulfilling 100,000 meals a month, exactly one year after its launch.
On top of sharing companies solving these everyday annoyances for consumers, they are also incredibly user-friendly, with most platforms offering phone apps for on-the-go access to services. This caters well to America's increasingly app-driven and immediacy-seeking culture, helping sharing services to rapidly acquire new consumers.
Saving Money, Avoiding Headaches
Whether it be a vacation property or a car, many are motivated to join the sharing movement primarily by the convenience of not having to own. Sharing services give consumers all the benefits of ownership with almost none of the costs. Millennials, major contributors to the sharing ecosystem, are arguably the wariest of the inconveniences that accompany ownership. But as these new services continue to grow, this generation of young adults will use them to mimic the advantages of having, for example, a timeshare or car. I even find myself, a Gen-X'er who owns a home and car, gravitating towards sharing services in my personal life for food and travel. The services are often more convenient than their traditional counterparts and don't come with the hassle of maintenance or cleanup.
Customer Demands Met
Sharing services have staying power because of their ability to adapt to customer needs, including growth into new markets and updated service offerings. 2015 will be no exception to this principle of operation for sharing platforms, as many have already announced planned changes. For example, Plated, a food-sharer similar to Blue Apron, will begin offering dessert options in addition to their dinner ingredient deliveries. Elsewhere in the sharing ecosystem, car2go will be expanding its point-A to point-B car-sharing services to a new market, China, later in 2015. Reacting to customer needs, from a business perspective, is one of the most effective ways to keep current users engaged and contribute to the acquisition of additional customers in both new and existing markets.
The last major definer of sharing services, and a reason they will prove to be successful in 2015, is that they allow for innovation in previously untapped areas. Around two years ago, the idea of sharing your home via an app as a hotel alternative was considered radical. Rewind further to when offering money to a complete stranger was reserved for venture capitalists. Now the ever-present Kickstarter has funneled nearly $1.5 billion to startups and projects over the course of seven years. Even in the well-established car-sharing industry, which clocked in around 800,000 U.S. members in 2012, analysts are predicting a major spike to 3.8 million users by 2020 - a tripling of the existing customer base.
As the sharing economy becomes more widely accepted, it opens the door for sharing services in new industries to take root and build reputable brands. Based on the principle of communal goods or services, companies will continue to help users solve common annoyances, greatly improving the quality of everyday life. This will, in the style of this evolving ecosystem, continue to benefit the consumer throughout 2015 and lead to the creation of more buzzed-about sharing brands across the economy.
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