Rent, Own or Borrow: The Sharing Economy for Millennials

Given the rise of the Sharing Economy through companies like Airbnb and Zipcar, Fabric wanted to uncover Millennials’ attitudes and brand relationships within this new economy. Would they have similar attitudes to their parents? Or, has the omnipresence of tech changed things? What we found challenges the very definition of the American Dream.

Research Objective

To understand Millennials’ attitudes about the Sharing Economy versus their parents.

Target Audience

National US sample

17 states

24 cities

Ages 19-34

Even Male/Female ratio

> 40% had HH incomes $100K+

Mix of ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds

We Learned

Millennials feel that the Sharing Economy has enabled an evolution of the American Dream for their generation

My Parents’ American Dream:

  • Success through individual effort
  • Work hard to improve life standing
  • Life-long accumulation of “my things”

My American Dream:

  • Success through a combination of individual and collaborative effort
  • Work smart, always open to new opportunities and experiences to enhance life
  • Enjoying “my access” to things and experiences when I want/need them
I’m willing to pursue housing through a website like Airbnb, rent a car through Zipcar, but my parents don’t want any of that. They want to own those things. It has something to do with their American Dream. For my younger generation, I don’t think that’s either desirable or even possible. With the rise of the sharing economy, I see truly a reflection of a national economy for people like myself.

Bishoy N.

I think my parents and I disagree about the sharing programs because my parents are baby boomers and everything with them was about being a self-made person…not accepting help from other people.

Matt S.

So my parents feel a higher sense of satisfaction saving up, buying that new car and having a nice thing that they can call their own, whereas I see more value in just being able to open up an app on my phone and find the car that I could use or a ride that I could get.

Ryan C.

There are 3 key factors shaping the strong connection between Millennials & “Sharing” brands & fueling the Sharing Economy

  • Sharing brands enable a new definition of prosperity for Millennials within a sluggish economy.
  • Millennials’ comfort with technology and their trust of social media allows them to leverage Sharing brand connections/benefits.
  • Sharing brands provide Millennials with a sense of savviness and opportunity.

Sharing brands provide more attainable possibilities for prosperity within this economy.

  • Millennials recognize that their parents’ definition of success and prosperity isn’t as possible for their generation.
  • They see the sharing economy as a way for them to achieve some of their goals within their “American Dream.”
  • Sharing brands not only provide access, but also can alleviate the worry associated with not having enough money for purchase.
I don’t feel stable enough to own a home, also a bicycle or a car. I do own my car but living in a city, if I could share or rent one instead of owning one, I would definitely be interested in that.

~ Carly S.

I’m sure my parents very much disagree and think that I should be owning an apartment, but right now the most financially feasible thing is to keep renting. I think that really is just a generation gap of having a bit of uncertainty.

~ Matthew F

I rent my apartment and at my age my parents owned their first home…The economy has changed all that…I can’t afford, as a single female, to purchase my own home so I choose to rent because it’s something that I can do without having to worry about how much money I have.

~ Erin D.

Millennials’ trust of online brands and relationships allows them to more fully enjoy the benefits

Online experience and trust allows Millennials to be more:

  • experimental, excited to try new brands and services that they may have little or no previous history with
  • open, willing to enter into a rental or share relationship with a stranger
  • fearless, able to look at the possibilities associated with outsourcing a task or embarking on a new adventure based on an online reputation
  • spontaneous, able to enjoy share relationships when they want and not be bogged down with longer-term commitments
  • fulfilled, by the reward of the experience
They are OK with borrowing someone else’s things…but if it comes to participating as someone who lends these thing out, they wouldn’t be able to trust….where as I’m able to say OK, this person has a good online reputation, so let’s go for it.

~ Jen S.

For me, I like the flexibility of being able to leave – going to a different place and I think that kind of resonates through a lot of people my age.

~ Matthew F

There’s a lot of things that I would probably be okay with in terms of renting and sharing that my parents wouldn’t and I feel it’s because they grew up in a different time and they worked really hard for a lot of the things that they’ve accumulated over the years. I think we’re in a different society with technology and sharing.

~ Marisa M.

Sharing brands provide Millennials with opportunities to feel they are “working smarter”

Although some did admit that their parents view “sharing” as a way for them to dodge adult responsibilities, Millennials overall recognize the potential that sharing brands offer them:

  • profitability, able to better leverage current “assets” for extra income
  • frugality, able to reduce expenses associated with owning
  • “waste reduction,” able to avoid unnecessary duplication and/or over accumulation of “stuff”
  • time/resource leverage, able to better leverage their own time, skills and “assets”
I think it’s wasteful for everybody to own a car and be a single-serve driver, so I’m really into the car share programs…my parents have this idea that if you don’t go by yourself that somehow you are ripping off the system or gleaning every little bit you can…not taking responsibility…just a way of doing the bare minimum.For them owning things is a symbol of prosperity and has been for a long time and for me it seems like a wasteful choice.

~ Kelsie C

For me, I think it’s kind of exciting that I can meet new people from all over the place and be making extra money without really having to do too much. For me I need the extra income and for older people like my parents, they don’t.

~ Nolan D.

I’m willing to rent appliances, rent rooms, make my furniture, anything to earn a few extra dollars, especially if it’s a trustworthy person… why not earn some money for something?

~ Ryan G.

The thing with my parents is that their generation thought that there’s a lot of value in holding onto stuff, but I think nowadays, we realize that things, just because you hold on to them, doesn’t mean they are going to make you a profit later, so why tie yourself into something by owning it when you can just rent it?

~ Chalita A.

Sharing brands are truly shaping the lives of Millennials – providing them with a sense of opportunity and re-defining prosperity for their generation.

Millennials feel certain that technology will continue to fuel the growth of strong Sharing Brands and the Sharing Economy.

With the rise of mobile technology and the omni-presence of the web, people can make known what sorts of things that they have that maybe isn’t getting maximally utilized…and people can create ways to share that amongst themselves with neighbors locally and through a searchable database of that stuff. So that is why it’s more convenient and prevalent these days.

~ Eugene P.

With the rise of social media, this made it so easy for us to connect with each other. It’s no longer difficult for me to find housing down the street …for this reason, I think the sharing economy is on the rise.

~ Bishoy N.

Conclusions & Implications

  • As the American Dream shifts for Millennials within a challenging economy, the sharing economy, at the most basic level, allows them access to products and services that they may not otherwise be able to afford.
  • At a higher level, sharing brands support Millennials’ desire for convenience, flexibility and unique experiences. Millennials are forming strong, lasting relationships with sharing brands, relationships that are as relevant and meaningful to their lives as traditional brands.
  • The trust that Millennials have built through their social/online experiences allows them to be fearless and open to new sharing brands.
  • Although some Millennials did admit that their ultimate desire for ownership may not be different than their parents when resources allow, the sharing economy does allow them to be fulfilled – as the reward of the experience often is as valuable as owning it.
  • Millennials’ positive sharing experiences can be the bridge for trial within their parents’ “social network” and will likely help build trust for these older generations.
  • A broader positioning for “Share Economy brands” beyond simple cost-savings will connect with Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and a maturing Millennial generation. Sharing brands have the ability to deliver both rational and emotional benefits, allowing consumers to feel frugal, savvy, resourceful and adventurous.
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