11 January 2018 | By Richard Laughton Insight

A bet on the future

Richard Laughton, chair of Sharing Economy UK, looks at what 2018 has in store for the industry

The sharing economy has grown rapidly over the past few years and with the advancements of digital technologies, particularly smartphones, peer-to-peer markets are now a reality in cities all over the world.

The industry has been spurred on by economic, social and environmental motivators and the UK has been at the vanguard of development with the vibrant start-up scene that has developed over the last decade. And it attracted a lot of attention in 2017.

Much was said about the impact the sharing economy is having on local communities and economies, and the way people live and work. But not all commentary was positive, with the industry becoming something of a lightning rod for broader concerns about developments in working arrangements in particular.

However calls for increased regulation were matched by the engagement of major industry players in constructive debate about the potential to harness this new form of interaction to mutual benefit. Indeed, 2017 was also the year that the UK’s ONS developed better ways to capture the impact the sharing economy is having on national statistics, a sign of its growing importance to the overall economy.

As we start 2018, the sharing economy is set to develop and expand further to meet user demand driven by rising awareness about how these types of businesses operate and the opportunities they bring.

The sharing economy will continue to accelerate in 2018, with activity concentrated in the following areas:

Trust – headlines in the UK and across the world show that trust remains a critical issue and a major part of the sharing economy infrastructure. As the growth trajectory continues, we predict that more efforts will be made by sharing economy businesses to show that they are working hard to build trust between participants. The Sharing Economy UK TrustSeal kitemark will play a part in addressing trust matters, and may reach overseas markets.

Innovation – sharing economy businesses are leaders in innovation as they embrace new ideas and revamp other sectors – forcing incumbents to rethink how they operate. We expect to see newer types of sharing economy business models this year, focusing on the public sector and providing wider societal benefit. New ownership models such as platform cooperatives may also arise as the sharing economy diversifies.

Partnerships – we are likely to see more collaboration between sharing economy businesses and established companies, such as that between Ikea and TaskRabbit in 2017. Brands join forces for mutual benefit and reach – platforms move fast and attract tech savvy audiences; established corporates have more infrastructure and scale.

Future of work – the sharing economy and gig economy within it will provide increasing opportunities for many people especially those seeking flexible working and those previously excluded from the labour market. Gig working will become more common as sharing economy businesses become more widespread, and the trend towards self-employed status progresses. A number of new businesses are launching which aim to help platforms provide employment-like benefits to gig workers and may help to increase their bargaining power.

Investment – we witnessed huge funding rounds in the sector last year, highlighting the sharing economy’s future potential and role in global and local business even when many participants are currently operating at a loss. High valuations for emerging global winners and expansion of the use of sharing economy platforms by incumbent business and across new sectors should see this trend of venture investment persist.

2018 promises to be an exhilarating year for the sharing economy, and one in which we set out to demonstrate the value of the industry as we work to champion the benefits it brings.

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