The Rise of Access-Based Commerce (Or Understanding Incentives in the Collaborative Economy)

Great new report digging into why users really like Zipcar – and the answer is not what you’d normally think.

Specifically, researcher’s wanted to better understand how users thought about Zipcar and spent in depth time interviewing and following their “sharing” behavior.

The paper goes on to argue that collaborative commerce products like Zipcar and Airbnb are missing the point as users don’t really care about community; but rather can’t afford or don’t need the full product now and sharing offers a cheaper and more efficient alternative. (In what they’re calling “Access-based Commerce”)

It’s a very different way to think about the sharing market – specifically, that people care less about the community / caring part of the model – but are instead more focused on the “better / faster / easier” access part of the model.

With that as a lens, its interesting to re-evaluate the space and the success of businesses in each category.

  • Lyft versus Sidecar

Both message collaborative consumption. Sidecar is a pure marketplace while Lyft was until very recently directly paying drivers. Outsized growth of Lyft on a relative basis has been driven by better user experience for rides and the fact that it fits into the mental transactional model for rides.

  • AirBnb versus CouchSurfing

Both message collaborative consumption. Airbnb brings in commerce which drives a much more traditional buying behavior. CouchSurfing’s growth as a business is hindered by its commitment to its community (specifically people don’t all feel the need to share space / its a harder process to find a place to stay.)

More broadly, this may also explain the lack of success around “Sharing Item” marketplaces like Rentcycle, etc – if the motivation for use of these products is that its easier and cheaper than owning it myself or traditional methods – the friction is still too high with sharing for me to really want to do it.

(Or short answer – the decision to participate in one of these services still follows the rational choice model – the direct benefit (D) of participating is just much lower (or zero) than initially thought.)


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I work for True Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund with offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto. We partner with promising entrepreneurs at the earliest stages in the technology market providing hands-on management support to guide our portfolio companies through the challenges of early growth.