For all that is said about how computers, the Internet and the digitization of interactions are alienating from their fellow man, there have been developments that have purposely brought people closer. Social media is undoubtedly one of these developments, so has messaging mobile apps, but so too has a host of mobile apps that are bringing users together through basic commerce. Users buy, sell, rent and trade with each other, offering spare rooms, entire houses, their cars and even parking spots for their cars. These mobile apps have digitized the bartering system of old, made it as fool proof as possible and has made it ridiculously simple to use.
The academic term for this is collaborative consumption and it refers to how an individual can use various digital platforms to bring to the marketplace a previously untapped reserve of assets, whether that be physical goods, skills or services. The apps that have been created upon which users can participate in this collaborative consumption are colloquially known as sharing economy apps.
Now, even though the name sharing economy brings into mind a bunch of people lending out or giving away their unused goods this is not necessarily the case. While there are cases where users will give things away for free, the whole system can be thought of as mini or personal ecommerce transactions. Rather than genuine sharing, money is often exchanged for the product, skill or service being offered.
While the term sharing economy may seem foreign to a lot of people (at least for now), the reality is that many of them already use it or are exposed to it in some way. Lots of mobile app development companies are already working on sharing economy apps. Mention collaborative consumption and don’t be surprised if you are met with a blank stare and shoulder shrug, but mention companies and apps like AirBnB, Uber, eBay and Etsy, and light bulbs are turned on in their minds.
Users of these mobile apps see them as convenient, at times a bargain, and often a source for the unique. On the other end of the equation, providers of goods, skills and services see these apps as ways to bring in extra income, become self sufficient and utilize their assets that others may find value in.
Some people may look at the rise of sharing economy apps with wonder and awe, as if it were a technological or social creation, mobile app developers already know these mobile apps have taken the market. But the truth is that the urge to take control of ones own finances has always been there, lying beneath the veneer of society. Who wouldn’t want a bit more money? Who doesn’t want financial independence? Technology, mobile app developers and the apps that were created merely gave people a convenient marketplace to showcase their wares and talents. You can say that the sharing economy was inevitable. The only thing that was needed was the correct vector (the mobile apps), convenience (ease of use) and time (to attain an adoption rate that will surpass the tipping point).
The first of these kind of mobile apps came out over a decade ago with eBay, but the last five years saw a boom in this category of apps. It also grew and matured from straight purchasing an item from one user to another to something more, something diverse and unique. Airbnb allows users to short-term rent rooms and properties. Uber allows users to utilize their cars to shuttle people around from point A to B for a nominal fee. Companies like TaskRabbit allows people to run others errands. Parkhound, and the like, allows people to rent out their parking spots, while apps like Drive My Car, as the name suggests, lets people rent out their vehicles. Every year dozens of sharing economy apps hit the app stores and there is no signs of it slowing down. What is truly amazing is how mobile app developers are finding creative ways of democratizing or solving problems and needs of people.
Mobile app development companies who are not already playing in the sharing economy space should definitely take a second look. Unlike most other mobile app categories, the sharing economy vertical does not rely on novelty or gimmicks. Much like social media it relies on a dedicated community of users that have developed enough trust between them to exchange money even though they may not have ever met face to face.
On top of this, no marketing tactic beats the word of mouth messages of advocates and evangelists. Furthermore, this particular section of mobile apps gives developers the freedom to choose a particular problem that they and their peers face and truly tackle it. This can be as small as finding a new avenue of trading and collecting baseball cards (do they still have these?) to something much bigger like finding someone that has the skillset to code a robotic interface. The problem can be simple or complex, but a solution can still be developed.
Even though this category has already produced some revolutionary apps (AirBnB and Uber) and more apps are being developed now more than ever, it does not mean that the market or category are saturated. Far from it, actually. Mobile app development companies need only do a bit of research, be willing to listen and keep an open mind to find a need for a solution. Or better yet, employ the sharing economy mentality right from the get go and ask people what they need or if they have anything to offer. The responses may surprise and can lead to the generation of some truly wondrous mobile apps.