Last weekend, The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman profiled Airbnb.com and said the company’s high-profile success in the home-rental marketplace shows that consumers are quickly embracing the idea of sharing things. “The sharing economy—watch this space,” he wrote. “This is powerful.”
A whole range of startups, from SnapGoods to Airbnb to RelayRides, has sprung up in recent years to connect people online and help them save money and be environmentally friendlier through the peer-to-peer renting of goods. People are renting out their homes, their cars and even their tools. Why buy a new $300 power drill, after all, when your neighbor down the street can lend you one for $20 for the weekend?
For established small, local merchants, however, the trend toward “collaborative consumption” may not be quite so enthralling. In fact, it might be a little scary. How can you maintain a viable small business if few people want to buy anything anymore?
Instead of fearing the sharing economy, however, small businesses would do better to embrace it. The trend is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, and it can offer growth opportunities and good lessons. Here are some ways small businesses can take advantage of the sharing economy, according to a recent article on Techonomy.com:
1. Participate. If you have any underutilized assets, whether office space, evening gowns or tools, consider renting them out on a daily or hourly basis. As consumers become more interested in renting vs. buying, this is an obvious way to take advantage of that trend and generate some extra revenue.
2. Make your products more shareable. Some automakers are already adapting to the sharing economy by integrating wireless entry into their auto designs, so that car owners don’t have to hand off keys when renting out their vehicles. Think about how to make your products more attractive to buyers looking to share.
3. Facilitate sharing arrangements. Consumers are gravitating toward sharing, whether you like it or not. Your business may be able to gain brownie points by facilitating such transactions, whether setting up an informal system or creating an online tool. Being more involved with how customers use your products can also lead to strong relationships and more loyalty, Techonomy claims: “This can expand the scope of interaction with consumers, moving from a narrow buy/sell transaction to a long-term relationship over the entire user experience. In the process, companies can gain more data and insight about the usage of their products.”