The holiday season puts us all in a giving and sharing mood. In fact, this spirit of sharing may be more than a mood; it may be a trend that’s going to gain increased traction in the New Year. The trend’s name is Collaborative Consumption and we’re seeing it take off in many different ways. If you’ve been engaged in social lending, bartering, swapping and trading, gifting and sharing then you’re already participating in this trend.

Photo: Niklas Wikström

What is Collaborative Consumption?

As the name suggests, collaborative consumption is a new model of ownership through which one individual doesn’t own one item but instead many individuals share ownership of this certain item. For so many decades the consumer mindset has been all about sole ownership of the items that we select to purchase for ourselves. In this new model of consumption, individuals accept only a share of the item, essentially taking what they need while letting others take what they need.

Huh? Here are some examples:

Some of the most common examples of collaborative consumption that we’re already familiar with include:

  • Car sharing programs. Zipcar and City Car Share are examples of programs through which members own access to vehicles but do not retain sole ownership of a car. As a member, you pay to take the car out when you need it and leave the car available for others to use when they need it. There are many other examples of programs through which members share ownership of items ranging from traditional vacation timeshares to newer industries like handbag sharing stores.
  • Temporary room rentals. Sites like AirBnB and iStopOver allow people to rent out the extra space in their homes to vacationers for short periods of time. The American Dream may be to own your own home but the American reality is that sharing your space and splitting the bills makes a whole lot more sense in today’s economy.
  • Resale of items and purchase of used goods. The throwaway mentality that we as a consumer society have had for so long has given way to a new way of thinking. It’s both greener and more cost-effective to resell our gently used items instead of simply throwing them away. We may be the sole owner of a piece of clothing or consumer electronics for some time but when we no longer need it we sell the item at a lower price to a new owner and both parties win.
  • Clothing swaps. This is a current craze that’s taking over many cities across the nation. People bring in their old clothing for donation to the swap. They receive a a bag in exchange for their donation and they can fill up the bag with items that others have brought to the swap. Everyone gets new clothes, no one spends any money and the items go home with new owners. Swaps of all kinds (trading, bartering and even borrowing) are increasingly common in this new society.
  • Social lending. Sites like Lending Club and Zopa allow individuals to get personal loans from others. The loan isn’t funded by one single individual but tens or even hundreds of people all contributing together to share their money. The lenders get a little bit of interest and everyone wins.

Why Collaborative Consumption Makes Sense

The benefits of this new model of materialism make sense in the modern world. The benefits include:

  • Saves money. The core individual benefit of this new consumerism is that everyone saves money. When you only have partial ownership of an item or you only pay for the ownership of the item over a short period of time, your own investment is lower.
  • Collaborative Consumption is social. The sharing of resources has been facilitated by a general gravitation towards sharing with others in the modern world. The advent of social networking and the ease of sharing through online sites (eBay, Freecycle, etc.) have come together to make it simple and sensible to share ownership of items in today’s society. We want to share with others in the 21st century. Additionally, we are increasingly defining ourselves by our social profiles and what we share rather than what we own.
  • It’s green. We save the earth by sharing our resources.

What to Expect in Collaborative Consumption in 2011

Many of the sites and tools that people use to engage in collaborative consumption have been around for a few years now. So what’s different in 2011? It has finally been recognized that all of these different tools fall under one umbrella. Being a member of Zipcar and borrowing a designer handbag may seem like very different things but they’re really all about reducing sole ownership of items for the benefit of everyone. Putting a name to this trend will facilitate growth across all areas of the trend. Some of the biggest changes we will likely see in this trend in 2011 include:

  • More organized sites for sharing. The sites that exist now are primarily single-purpose sites; AirBnB for room rentals or Zipcar for car sharing, for example. Increasingly we’ll see sites like Bartercard where collaborative consumption is facilitated across industries.
  • Bigger numbers. Reports indicate that numerous aspects of collaborative consumption are on the rise. The New York Post says that sectors of serious growth include social lending (a $5 billion business), peer to peer item rentals (a $26 billion industry) and clothing swaps (up to $3 billion in the U.S. alone).
  • Increased acceptance of the trend. As more and more people jump on the bandwagon, even more will want ti join in.

Share your stories: How have you been a collaborative consumer?



San Francisco based blogger for businesses and writer for the web. 10+ years of professional writing experience across a diverse range of different interests.