It was tarnished as a fad, or worse still, a hipster trend. But the ‘sharing’ or ‘collaborative economy’ is here to stay. This new purchasing practice is changing the way we consume products and services in our daily life.
There is hardly an article about this new economy that doesn’t discuss the way that companies like AirBnB and UBER are disrupting consumer markets.
The number of Americans who have taken part in the sharing economy has grown by 20 per cent in the last 18 months. You would be hard pushed to name another sector that has seen a similar increase.
What is the Sharing Economy?
For the uninformed, the sharing or collaborative economy refers to the peer-to-peer sharing of goods and services (normally in place of purchasing outright), and is generally facilitated through a community-based online platform.
As is highlighted above, the sharing economy has gained a lot of traction in consumer markets such as accommodation (AirBnB), transport and ride-sharing platforms (UBER), and business funding (KickStarter). There are many, many more examples.
What is less clear is how or, perhaps more importantly, when these new purchasing practices might find their way into common procurement practice. Smaller organisations, or ones with less formal procurement processes, have allowed the use of businesses like AirBnB for business travel, although this is far from the norm.
Procurement has been doing it for years
But it poses an interesting question – is the sharing economy really any different from the age-old procurement question of ‘buy vs. lease’?
‘Buy vs. Lease’ is one of the key decisions frequently made by procurement, irrespective of the industry in question. For example, when an outlay was required for a new asset, say vehicles or fleet, the ‘Buy vs. Lease’ question would be asked (and usually answered by senior decision makers) as to whether the goods should be bought, or merely leased as required, leaving the maintenance and up-keep to someone else.
Building Furniture in Berlin
This cross over between big business procurement and the small-scale personal sharing economy was highlighted brilliantly on a recent trip one of the Procurious community made to Berlin (and was kind enough to share with us!).
Friends of theirs had recently returned to Germany after seven years living in Sydney, and had moved into a new flat. The flat came completely unfurnished (no curtains, no lights, no kitchen cupboards), so significant furniture construction was required before they could fully move in. Some of the new furniture was ubiquitous IKEA gear, and thus required nothing more than an Allen key and a lot of patience to construct.
However, other items required more work and, importantly, more tools. This included an orbital sander and other wood working tools to alter a chest of drawers so that it would fit into a small space inside the new flat.
Ordinarily this would have required a trip to a hardware store and a large outlay on new equipment that would subsequently lie redundant for years to come. But in Berlin, and many other cities around the world, there is app called peerby that can help. The app allows individuals to connect with other people locally and lease/borrow items they have (at a small cost), rather than buying their own.
Interestingly, the considerations for Buy vs. Lease are the same whether you are constructing furniture in Berlin or buying plant equipment in for a mining company in Western Australia. In order to make a good decision, buyers should consider how often they’ll use the product, how core it is to their operations (if you plan on doing a lot of woodwork, maybe its worth buying the orbital sander), the cost per use, and when the product will become obsolete.
It seems the sharing economy has merely brought an old procurement process (Buy vs. Lease) to the consumer market, meaning that purchasing practices that previously could only be leveraged by big business are now available to recreational (perhaps that’s the wrong word) furniture builders in Berlin.
It remains to be seen whether or not these practices will cycle back round again in the procurement world, but under the guise of the sharing economy.