Commercial Sharing Systems: A Smart Option in Challenging Times?

Aug 10, 2012, 09:07 ET from American Marketing Association

CHICAGO, Aug. 10, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- New research in the Journal of Marketing published by the American Marketing Association suggests that sharing systems like Zipcar and cell phone minute pools may offer a welcome ownership alternative to cash-strapped consumers. Importantly, results show that consumers evaluate sharing options intelligently, taking into account factors that would change their sharing experience and savings. As a result, sharing offers hope for efficient resource use and enhanced well-being in challenging economic times. 

Authors Cait Lamberton and Randall L. Rose asked consumers to evaluate ownership and sharing options in three experiments. In the first study, drivers evaluated a car sharing program and responded to attitudinal measures regarding their motivations and beliefs. Analysis shows that consumers wisely opt away from sharing when it won't save them money. But price isn't their only consideration: consumers also factor in sharing's likelihood to provide the car they need when they need it. Interestingly, these factors override social considerations like peer approval or environmental protection, often the primary levers used in sharing-related marketing materials.

Experiments 2 and 3 then show that in the domains of cell phone minutes and bike sharing, consumers are again sensitive to cost-savings. But again beyond price, consumers consider the way that other sharing partners' use will influence their access to the products. This leads to results that counter past practice. For example, sharing with similar others may not be preferred, since doing so may lead to a simultaneous "run" on the shared good and with it, a frustrating shortage experience. As a result, consumers lean toward sharing with different individuals, who will desire complementary, not competing, use.

"These are hopeful findings," says Lamberton. "Often, we read research about poorly-made consumer decisions that don't necessarily increase financial or emotional well-being. In this case, consumers seem to take into account factors that matter from a rational perspective. In the end, they make a good decision that can both save them money and enhance their quality of life."

These findings also offer encouragement to marketers and policymakers. By evaluating sharing options intelligently, consumers can be part of the solution to resource scarcity challenges. Smart design and communication about well-designed sharing programs can spur adoption. But marketers need to balance cost savings against resource availability: Consumers want to save a dime, but only when doing so preserves their ability to meet their needs and increase their well-being.

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SOURCE American Marketing Association