The concept of the peer-to-peer marketplace is well known since the rise of the internet and has become an important feature in any definition on the collaborative economy. However, lately in the Netherlands, we have had several discussions on how new models such as the model of ParkFlyRent, fit in the collaborative economy. This is a carsharing marketplace operating from Schiphol Airport. It offers travellers leaving the country free parking while they are abroad as well as a clean car when they get back. The other side of this marketplace is a car rental service to incoming travellers, while sharing the revenues with the car-owner. This marketplace resembles other peer-to-peer carsharing schemes such as RelayRides or Snappcar except for the fact that the car owner and car renter do not meet one another, neither online nor offline.
ParkFlyRent is giving a sneak preview on what a large part of the future collaborative economy might look like. There are similar developments in the accommodation sector. One example in Amsterdam is Iambnb.nl, which tells customers: “the only way you’ll notice your house has been rented out is through your bank account.” Or a similar proposition from the Spanish hotel chain Room Mate Hotels who started ‘BeMade,’ a fine example of how existing providers can jump in on the peer-to-peer opportunity.
Traditionally, contact between peers has been one of the hallmarks of the collaborative economy experience. But even traditional marketplaces are moving slowly from a truly peer-to-peer marketplace towards the peer-to-business-to-peer variant. We have seen technological developments already taking a bite out of the personal contact. Think of electronic lockers with keys to Airbnb apartments, or boxes installed in peoples cars to enable unlocking, tracking and booking. The question is, what will the majority of people ultimately opt for?
Convenience is key
We are moving towards a world where marketplaces become the dominant place for economic transactions. This means that people will get what they need from other individuals through online (and offline) marketplaces. One of the main market opportunities that arises here is convenience of which time is an important element. For instance the two hours that you have to wait at home to receive your guests on Airbnb. These are the constraints that limit the growth of the peer-to-peer model.
Interestingly it are startups that face this ‘time’ issue that are demonstrating us the possible solutions. The way ParkFlyRent operates demonstrates an opportunity that extends to many other markets. It is this model that beholds an opportunity for hotel chains to expand in the example above. Within the consumer goods sector Move-loot is an online secondhand store that buys, sells and manages the logistics, effectively taking out the hassle of goods trading. In Amsterdam some cafes attract new customers by providing key services for local Airbnb hosts. Around the largest peer-to-peer markets, we see the contours of a new economy emerge. Still shifting away from large centralized institutions, but nevertheless filled with new middlemen resembling those we have known since the earliest market based societies.
The opportunity in reducing time based ‘hassles’ is strongest in places where there is a double mismatch in supply and demand like the example of ParkFlyRent demonstrates. Think of an airport where thousands of people need long-term parking, and thousands of others need a long-term vehicle rental. In the 20th century ownership based business models, those were seen as separate economic opportunities. Airports earn money by renting out parking spots, car rental companies invest in car fleets to rent out. In the 21st century access based model, it makes perfect sense to turn those two markets into one, without compromising on people’s access to mobility. In fact, access to mobility will only increase as fixed costs such as owning and maintaining a car fleet, as well as parking spaces, will go down dramatically.
Implications for trust management
In this model, the marketplace becomes the most important trade partner for both the supply and demand side. It is therefore very interesting to see how transparent these businesses will operate, and to what extent they will still bring the supply and demand side together online. Do you have a say in deciding to whom your car is rented out?
Removing friction for convenience holds a great promise but might just take away an important human element. RelayRides did a partnership with General Motors to install the Onstar system. This tool made each transaction easier as there was no handover. However, they realised the friction was in fact good and led to greater accountability. So they ditched it went back to key handover and saw claims and issues drop between users. Similar development can be expected in other markets. Peerby could remove friction of goods handovers by partnering with a parcel locker company. This would increase the number of goods circulated and thus its positive environmental impact, the downside is decreased social capital. More of the same examples and their impact on people’s behaviour should be identified.
One could argue that peer-to-business-to-peer marketplaces operate on the fine line between classic peer-to-peer marketplaces and product service systems delivered by companies. Offering the convenience of a product service system while grasping the economic and environmental benefits of making a better use of existing underutilized assets. This is a rapidly emerging opportunity, which might be of value for a significant part of the market and thereby attract more people to the collaborative economy. But then again, it has to be discovered how far services within this economy can get without the personal contact.
By Pieter van de Glind (co-founder shareNL), with valuable input from Jessica Slijpen (shareNL) and Rachel Botsman (Collaborative Lab).