Pay-as-you-live: The business of sharing in the UK

WHY own a bike, car or even a dress, when you can hire it and be released from the cost of outright ownership? This is the view of a new generation of UK consumers, who are seizing on the chance to access a growing array of goods and services as and when they need them. Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and enabled by new technology, alternative models of ownership and consumption are blossoming into attractive options for many consumers.

Sharing are swapping are not new. But with advances in technology, these activities have been transformed into more powerful and efficient ways of accessing goods and services. Moving beyond traditional rental businesses models, a new breed of companies is enabling savvy consumers to access an ever-wider range of goods and services in more flexible, cost effective and environmentally friendly ways.

Zipcar, which provides members with access to cars by the hour, is just one business to have developed a business model centred around collaborative consumption – where goods are accessed on a pay-as-you-go basis. Smartphones are a key driver to the success of this model: book a car on your mobile, unlock the car with the mobile app and off you go.

Many other businesses offer pay-as-you-go options for products as diverse as clothing, jewellery and baby equipment. Companies like ParkAtMyHouse and StoreMates, which support the sharing of underused driveway and storage space respectively, are also growing at a significant pace.

Our research has shown that the extent to which temporary ownership is a growing way of life for many Britons. Significantly, this is focused among consumers aged under 55: one in five are hiring more now than a year ago. This is double the proportion of over 55s who say the same.

Convenience counts, of course, but the research re-iterates the extent to which meticulous scrutiny and assessment of offers is now the norm. While the total cost of ownership is a key consideration, consumers are also weighing up factors such as ongoing maintenance costs and depreciation when deciding whether to hire or purchase goods outright.

Since 2009, in wave after wave of the our research, around seven in ten people have consistently agreed “I shop around extensively to get the best deals”; and it is now over six in ten of all Britons who regularly compare prices online. Recession and the increasingly seamless integration of technology into our lives have rebooted our approach to consumption.

Looking to the future, consumers’ sustained focus on value coupled with convenience will ease alternative ownership models further into the mainstream. But the effective application of technology – when consumers are seizing online tools to aid smart consumption, and increasingly take mobile lifestyle management for granted – will also play a significant role.

Pippa Goodman is a trends consultant at The Future Foundation. Read the Pay-As-You-Live: The Business of Sharing in the UK report at www.zipcar.co.uk