The term “sharing economy” has always kind of flummoxed me, in that many of the services within it aren’t really sharing in the traditional sense of the word. To me, sharing is something you do for free. It’s not charging someone to use your car, bike or rake, but is something normally done with friends.
What the Internet did with sharing was to actually turn it into an economy where strangers could exchange a service for a fee, without having to deal with a large company between them to do the transaction.
But there is still a company between consumers and the services they want online, though maybe not as big as brick-and-mortar companies. If you want to sleep in my extra bedroom for a night, or have me watch your dog for a few days, we can do that with a middleman taking a cut.
Semantics aside, the sharing economy has enough benefits that I’ve been a big fan of it since Webvan started delivering groceries in my Bay Area neighborhood in the late 1990s. The company is now owned by Amazon, which seems to want to deliver everything to your door. Time, money and convenience were the big selling points for me.
I liked Webvan because it saved me time, or at least it seemed like it did. After picking out what I wanted online and dealing with the delivery, I may have spent just as much time grocery shopping online as I would have after a five-minute drive to my local grocery store.
I don’t think I saved much money with Webvan, but I was happy to break even when compared to going to a store, knowing that I was paying for not having to deal with the hassle of going to the store.
The downside was that I didn’t get to touch and see the fruits and vegetables before buying them, and the Webvan shopper wasn’t always good about picking out the best items. I once ordered flowers from the site, and got a bouquet that was falling apart.
Showing sharing economy love
This year, one of my goals is to buy things from the sharing economy more often. I’m not doing it for the sake of contributing to the economy or to buy things I don’t need, but in an effort to save time and money.
In the past I’ve been happy with such sharing economy services such as Fiverr to create an ad, DogVacay to pet sit my dog, Lyft for a ride to BART, a virtual assistant to manage another website I own, and a local organic produce delivery service. I’ve already written about how much I liked, and eventually grew bored with, the dinner menu planning at The Fresh 20.
I’m waiting for the portable WiFi device from Karma to arrive in April, and I’ve contemplated buying razors online, though I expect my Costco stash to last through the end of 2015. I don’t want to be a pack rat.
Sharing economy sites with potential
What others parts of the sharing economy do I hope to try in 2015? I have a few in mind, and I’d love to hear your comments on services you’d recommend. As I get to any of these, or others, I’ll review them at CashSmarter.
Here are a few sharing economy sites I’d like to try, broken down by category:
Travel: Vayable offers a chance to travel the world and have a local insider give you a unique tour, such as a walking photo tour of Paris or seeing the Louvre in an hour. Sidetour offers the same kind of service. There are also tons of home sharing sites I’d like to try, with VRBO being a hit so far with my family.
A butler or maid: Someone to take care of the daily tasks I can’t get to, such as Alfred, Homejoy or Get Maid. Some of these services aren’t available in the Bay Area, where I live, especially outside of San Francisco or San Jose in the far-off reaches of the Bay Area. I’ve tried TaskRabbit, but I must have been too low on my cost estimates, and I found the back-and-forth with contractors too much work.
Home: A maid is just the beginning. Zaarly offers handymen and gardeners. Fon offers free global WiFi if I just share a bit of my home WiFi. Enticing if I ever travel the globe, or my Karma device doesn’t arrive. I also like the idea of Roost to rent storage and parking from neighbors.
I’m not sure if I’ll get to all of these meal and grocery delivery services, but there are plenty to choose from. I don’t, however, expect to try any that look too expensive, which I think most may be.
Can’t get to everything
What types of sharing economy sites am I skipping? Probably learning sites, though I may find time to get to those later. And so far I’m unlikely to check out many sharing economy businesses that deal with money, such as being an investor in CircleUp or Lending Club, though they’re enticing and I hope to get to those someday.
I also doubt I’ll be checking out any space renting sites, such as Airbnb, or using any transportation services other than Lyft, mainly because I’m happy with Lyft and the hotels I stay in for the few times I travel each year.
What am I missing? Plenty, I’ll bet. But this doesn’t have to just be one man’s quest for the best of the sharing economy. What are your favorites?