Knocking on your neighbor's door to borrow a cup of sugar and sticking around to chat is a ritual as comforting as an old sweater. Neighborly folks, take note — socializing and sharing with neighbors has taken on some high-tech twists.
Websites that connect people who are interested in borrowing, bartering or buying used instead of new are gaining in popularity. Trendspotters have even given the phenomenon a name: collaborative consumption. And they say it's hitting home with consumers because it saves money while connecting them with like-minded folks.
"Collaborative consumption is emerging so fast and across sectors because of a perfect storm of four key socioeconomic drivers," says Rachel Botsman, co-author of "What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption." She says these factors are environmental awareness, a renewed sense of community, a recession that fundamentally shook consumers and a torrent of social media that facilitates collaborating.
Sites for sharing
Sure, you've heard of Craigslist and eBay. But new entrants are taking collaborative consumption into new territories, providing fresh opportunities for consumers to be frugal. As with anything, it's smart to use reputable operators whether you're borrowing or lending.
Here are four leaders in the emerging collaborative consumption field:
Debuting in 2007 as a Facebook application, Lending Club owes its life to social media. Lending Club is a pioneer of peer-to-peer lending. Members looking for a loan post what they're seeking. Members looking to invest money finance the loans. Lending Club, based in Redwood City, Calif., says both sides win, with above-average returns for investors and lower-than-average rates for borrowers. However, it only accepts lower credit risks; roughly 90 percent of prospective borrowers are rejected.
Which came first, expensive college textbooks or burdensome student debt? No matter. Chegg resolved this chicken-or-egg question — and also got its company name — by hatching a cost-saving answer. Chegg rents textbooks for just the amount of time you need them. Then you ship them back, Netflix-style. It's much cheaper than buying, the company claims. "The Basic Practice of Statistics" by David S. Moore, for instance, was recently listed as renting for $44.99. Purchase price is $120.95. Also, Chegg plants a tree every time someone rents a book — more than 4 million so far, according to its website.
Whether you have space to spare or want to stay in a place with flair, Airbnb matches hosts and guests with a wide range of accommodations around the world. For hosts, it's free to list your space; you get paid 24 hours after the guest checks in. For travelers, a recent survey of the site showed a wide selection of options below $100 in major American and European cities.
For anyone who has ever wondered, "Does everyone on the block need to own a lawn mower?" NeighborGoods has the answer: No. And assuming those who do are willing to share, the site facilitates borrowing and lending at no charge. The owners of the lawn mower — or whatever is lent — can charge a deposit or rental if they want, however. Verifying your NeighborGoods account for $4.99 is optional, but yields access to more items, the company says. You can also create your own customized lending group — for your building, block or whatever — that NeighborGoods will host for as little as $6 per month.
Making a connection
For April O'Connell-Cole, a mom of two from Truckee, Calif., collaborative consumption has paid off big time. "My daughter's only 5 months old and she's already been through three sizes — she's wearing an outfit only once or twice," she says. For that reason, she joined thredUP, a collaborative consumption site where moms swap children's clothing and toys. The "preloved" goods are $5 a box and you can actually browse online.
The cost savings has been helpful, O'Connell-Cole says. She's received 10 boxes of goodies and only had to pay about $30, thanks to money earned from boxes she sent out and referral bonuses. The convenience is also great, as she lives in a rural area without any children's clothing stores.
But especially meaningful are the bonds she has formed with other thredUp users. "It's a really good community of like-minded parents," O'Connell-Cole says. "That's probably my favorite part about it. People are willing to scour their houses (to help you)."
It's no wonder that collaborative consumption recently made a list of "10 ideas that will change the world" in Time magazine. "There's so much opportunity in this market," says Lauren Anderson, an Australia-based collaborative consumption consultant. "There's stuff around us all the time that we're not using to its full potential."