The Sharing Economy Creates a Social Enterprise

The Sharing Economy Creates a Social Enterprise

The Sharing Economy Creates a Social Enterprise 1440 428 Chute Gerdeman

After the Great Recession in 2009, consumers were required to reevaluate their values and look at purchases in a whole new way. Meanwhile a younger generation was learning a few things firsthand, many adopting a new mindset that you can’t own what you can’t afford, and realizing that not every purchase needed to be long term. Not surprisingly this is where concepts like Rent the Runway, Airbnb, and Uber have found their niche overs the last several years.

Some speculate that this trend will fade, but according to PwC the sharing economy is set to be worth $335 billion per year globally by 2025, and it poses some considerations for today’s traditional retailers. As urban environments grow, permanent ownership is not always the option, but access is still desired, and our younger generations are not only savvy, but also approaching more minimal lifestyles. Furthermore, concerns about cutting down on waste, creating a positive social impact, and giving greater access to quality goods has bred a new group of social enterprises.

The Library of Things

In 2014, founders Emma, James, and Bex stumbled upon a “borrowing shop” in Berlin, Germany. They felt the idea was brilliant and wanted to bring the concept back home to the UK. In South London, they found an old library, hence the name Library of Things, to launch their own borrowing shop offering DIY tools, gardening things, kitchen essentials, and more. Upon launching the concept they had immediate buy-in from the community with 100 customers signed up as members. The cost was free to join and gave individuals access to borrow the things that they needed only when they needed them. Up to five items could be rented per week with costs ranging from as little as fifty cents for a soccer ball to five dollars at the high end of the spectrum for a BBQ grill. Initially many of the items were donations, but they’ve since secured partnerships with big brand names like Patagonia and Berghaus.

Customers can browse the items in their online catalog to see if the items are “available” or on loan.” They even offer one-on-one sessions and workshops to learn how to use the product before you borrow. Can’t get much better than that, even directions can be complicated to understand sometimes.

By 2015 the concept had outgrown and exceeded its current space, and with the help of a Kickstarter campaign the founders were able to create a new community sharing space. Utilizing shipping containers, and refurbished materials like old lockers and wood pallets for furniture, the Library of Things set up space in the lot of the surplus Community Shop.

As another social enterprise, the Community Shop is a perfect fit and partner for the Library of Things. With the goal of reducing food poverty and food waste, Community Shop offers surplus goods to members who meet their criteria. Grocery, toiletries, and household goods are sold at the 1/3 price of traditional retail from leading brands like Nestle, Kraft, and Heinz, and national retailers like Tesco and Marks & Spencer.

Takeaway: Data has shown that those who are utilizing sharing based services are disproportionately at a higher income level than those that might benefit from the temporary ownership model, but the sharing economy has an opportunity to enable consumerism at a more attainable level. Brands should think about how they can empower future consumers by giving them access to quality goods at an affordable price.

Photo Credit: Sebastian Wood


A collection of insights research and observations across retail, restaurant, c-store and grocery. Helping brands provide a better experience for their customers. Enjoy.

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