The Collaborative Economy: Demographics of “Sharers”

VisionCritical-Participants-in-the-Sharing-Economy-Mar2014Who’s participating in the “collaborative economy?” Also known as the “sharing economy,” this space is loosely defined as people “getting goods and services from each other,” and should be of particular interest to big brands, who have an opportunity to get involved, but also stand to lose business to sharing services. A new report from Vision Critical and Crowd Companies takes a look at sharers in the UK, US and Canada, concluding that collaboration is now mainstream.

The report breaks participants in the collaborative economy into 3 segments:

  • “Neo-Sharers” – those who have in the past year used at least one of several “emergent” sharing services, such as Etsy, Arbnb and Kickstarter;
  • “Re-Sharers” – defined as those who “buy and/or sell pre-owned goods online using well-established services like eBay and Craigslist,” but who have yet to graduate to neo-sharer status; and
  • “Non-Sharers” – those yet to participate, but many of whom intend to in the next year.

A closer look at neo-sharers – the early adopters, so to speak – reveals that they account for some 16% of the US and Canadian adult populations and 29% of the UK population. Re-sharers, meanwhile, comprise about 23% of the population in the US and UK and one-quarter in Canada.

Together, neo- and re-sharers therefore constitute about 40% of the US and Canadian populations and about half of the UK population.

Despite those sizable numbers, the report indicates that the collaborative economy is still in its infancy, meaning that there is still time for brands to dive in and participate. Examples given include Patagonia partnering with eBay to drive buying and selling of pre-owned goods, BMW renting cars on demand, and the W Hotel in New York partnering with Desks Near Me to give guests access to premium workspaces.

Participating in the collaborative economy means that companies have a chance to win the hearts and minds of sharers. But who are these sharers, and what motivates them?

Demographically, the study points out, sharers are similar to the general population, although neo-sharers skew heavily towards younger groups, an unsurprising result given that this is a somewhat new economy. Some 51% of neo-sharers are women (compared to 50% of non-sharers), while 48% are aged 18-34 (versus 24% of non-sharers). Given their relative youth, neo-sharers are less likely than non-sharers to be married (27% are) and to be homeowners (62% are), although they are more likely to have kids in the household (36% do).

Interestingly, the study – which surveyed more than 90,000 customers in the collaborative economy – finds that sharers are more likely to be affluent. In the US, for example, while an estimated 16% of the population are neo-sharers, these early adopters make up 35% of Americans with incomes of at least $100,000. In fact, neo-sharers in the US are almost twice as likely as non-sharers to have incomes at that level.

It follows that sharers are less likely to be in the lower-income groups – and indeed 49% of American neo-sharers make less than $50,000 per year, compared to 55% of Americans on average.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, sharing of most goods and services tends to be more concentrated in top urban centers.

As for their motivations, most neo-sharers cite convenience (75%) as a reason for participating in the collaborative economy, with better pricing (55%) not quite as influential. Beyond those factors, many also refer to product/service quality (47%), the inability to find the good/service elsewhere (40%) and recommendations (40%).

Finally, sharers most often find out about services via word of mouth – whether that be someone telling them about it (47%), social networks (13%) or blogs (3%). Traditional marketing such as search (16%), news media (8%), online ads (7%), emails (5%) and print or TV ads (2%) are used less as discovery tools.

About the Data: The report is based on 2 surveys conducted between October 2013 and January 2014 by Vision Critical’s Voice of Market with participants from the US, UK and Canada aged 18 and over. The survey of 90,112 respondents provided data on the incidence, frequency and nature of participation in the economy, while a follow-up survey of more than 2,500 sharers provided deeper insight. The data is demographically representative of the adult populations of each country, and the results were weighted by age, gender, region and education to be representative of the demographics of each.