A new study from the Pew Research Center has found that while a majority of Americans have used at least one of the emerging collaborative economy services, a large number of people are still unaware of their existence and potential benefits.
In its first major study of the collaborative economy, Pew reported that 72 percent of Americans have used some kind of sharing, collaborative, or on-demand service, evidence of just how widespread their impact has become.
But Pew researchers sounded a cautionary note regarding the exclusion of those who have not heard of these applications or don’t know how to access them.
“The sharing economy has been the subject of much ongoing debate, but these services are impacting consumers to widely varying degrees,” said Aaron Smith, associate director at Pew Research Center and author of the study, in a statement. “Some Americans have deeply integrated these platforms into their day-to-day lives – but a larger number exist on the fringes of the sharing and on-demand economy.”
Pew’s ongoing study of the impact of technology on people’s daily lives has been very influential, and its data is widely used by researchers across the academic spectrum. In this latest report, Pew asked people about their use of 11 different services in three broad categories: home-sharing, ridehailing, and crowdfunding.
The attraction of these services is that they can often lead to greater choice, efficiency, and cost savings. Of course, these benefits are only available to those savvy enough to take advantage of them.
There is certainly a core group of power users who are leveraging this new economy. Beyond the 72 percent who have used at least one of these services, Pew found that one in five Americans has used at least four services, while 7 percent have used six or more.
The problem is with regard to the 28 percent who have never accessed these collaborative resources, many of whom simply have no idea that they exist. For example, Pew found that 61 percent of Americans were unfamiliar with the term “crowdfunding.” And 73 percent had never heard the term “sharing economy,” even if they had perhaps participated in it in some fashion.
At the same time, 15 percent of U.S. adults have used some kind of ridehailing app. But double that percentage had never heard of the concept of “ridehailing.”
Same goes with home-sharing. Pew found that 11 percent of Americans have tried a service like Airbnb or VRBO. But about 50 percent had never heard of them.
So, who is using these services? According to Pew, primarily college graduates, people with annual household income above $100,000, and young adults ages 18-24. In other words, older and poor people are on the wrong side of this emerging gap.
Of course, time and awareness are likely to close this divide to some degree. But from the perspective of this new breed of services, that gap is both a challenge and an opportunity going forward: Educating those currently on the fringes could bring in a wealth of new customers.