4 March 2016

Collaborative consumption: from value for users to a society with values

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Four European Union consumers associations – OCU (Spain), Altroconsumo (Italy), DECO-Proteste (Portugal) and Test-Achats/Test Aankoop (Belgium) – in collaboration with Cibersomosaguas Research Group (Universidad Complutense of Madrid) and Ouishare Spain, came together to undertake a pioneering research project on the collaborative consumption phenomenon from the point of view of its effect on consumers and society.

The research report entitled, “Collaboration or Business,” includes a series of questions that the consumers associations thought were important to resolve:

  • Do peer-to-peer (P2P) collaborative consumption (CC) platforms add value for individual consumers?
  • Are CC platforms a safe environment for users?
  • Do P2P CC platforms produce the beneficial impacts that some claim they do at economic, social and environmental levels?
  • Are they creating value for society as a whole?
  • Does the CC phenomenon represent a paradigm change or is it just a different way of doing the same business?

The research included 33 CC experts, over 8,600 consumers (users and non-users), and a sample of 70 websites of 55 different platforms across the four participating countries.

In order to explore the way that CC platforms organise and enable social interaction through design, features and informational content, a completely original research tool (a social Netnographic observational protocol) was developed and subsequently implemented by independent observers.

Key findings of the research

Collaborative consumption has high levels of awareness and involvement amongst those citizens that responded to the survey. Individual users are clear that CC platforms add value; this is reflected in high satisfaction levels and users’ reasons for participating.

Users reported no major conflicts, although better conflict resolutions systems should be put in place by the platforms, as current systems seem not so effective.

Additionally, some legal issues need improvement and clarification, particularly as the observational study of the legal dimensions of the platforms found different levels of compliance with the appropriate regulations. For instance, users should receive better information about the identity of the platform (fiscal data) and platforms should clearly distinguish between private and professional providers, as different legislation applies.

The platforms’ survey provided important information about the structure, governance, and environmental awareness of the responding platforms. According to the data from the study, it is clear that CC platforms are efficient but their governance models are still far from being collaborative. While some of the platforms are aware of environmental issues related to their operation, they provide no evidence about how their activities actually benefit the environment.

A platform’s orientation is not just a question of what they do but also of how they do it. The balance between business and collaboration varies greatly from one platform to another, even within the same sector. The social netnographic study determined that there are three typologies of platforms:

  • 46% of the platforms in the study are network oriented and aimed at creating networks of users connected by their common interests and digital reputation. Representative platforms: Airbnb and BlaBlacar.
  • 28% of the platforms in the study are transaction oriented; their purpose is to facilitate easy and practical exchanges between users. Representative platforms: Segundamano (Spain) and Uber Pop.
  • 26% of the platforms in the study are community oriented. Their model is a transformative paradigm that aims to create stronger communities and to promote more sustainable consumption habits. Notably, Italy and Belgium have more platforms in the community category compared to Spain and Portugal. Representative platforms: Repair Café (Belgium), Reoose (Italy) and Huertos Compartidos (Spain).

All of them provide value to users, but only about a quarter (26%) of platforms are focused on communities and have strong social and environmental missions.

The study finishes (page 65 onwards) with a set of 10 recommendations for Collaborative Consumption platforms and 10 requests to Policy makers and administrations.

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