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Mobile-enabled sharing economy opens new opportunities for marketers

With mobile opening up new ways for consumers to interact with commerce, a sharing economy has emerged, popularizing companies such as Zipcar, Airbnb and Splitwise.

Consumers are more willing now more than ever to share products and goods, and mobile devices are enabling this culture shift. Mobile makes it possible to split a bill with friends in a restaurant or even to select a stranger?s apartment to rent for a night.

?Mobiles open up lots of opportunities for sharing because they provide access to systems that allow for efficient sharing and payment mechanisms,? said Mike Vidikan, head of trends and insight at Innovaro, Tampa.

?Just about anything can be shared using mobiles from homes and cars to food and media and more.?

The sharing economy
Nowadays, consumers are comfortable sharing goods, mostly in an effort to save money. Some simply do not feel the need to own their own goods when they can share with others.

Others may even tie it into the idea of lowering the environmental footprint. Whatever it is, consumers are now more comfortable sharing goods.

Mobile has been helping and will continue to help fuel this culture. Consumers have a mobile device on them at all times, and this means that they have more access to sharing goods.

If a consumer only had a desktop, they would probably be less interested in sharing a product if they had to go home to reserve it, locate it and then go back out to pick up the product. Mobile streamlines the process and lets a consumer easily share on the go.

Mobile also adds to the sharing culture by heightening the word-of-mouth publicity.

If a consumer books an apartment through Airbnb on her smartphone, she can also then post on Facebook about the apartment via her smartphone. Airbnb and other marketers can take advantage of this by incorporating social media into mobile sites.

?This is an opportunity to provide good customer service, responding to problems and answering questions, and fostering conversations,? Mr. Vidikan said.

?There a lots of opportunities for marketers here,? he said. ?First, companies should consider how their products can be shared and think about partnering with these sharing services to promote their specific type of product. Companies can also build out their own sharing platform.

?Marketers should address the fundamental desires of consumers in the sharing economy, for some it?s a financial decision to save money, but for others it?s about preferring access over ownership.?

Sharing is caring
One popular example of sharing is the company Zipcar.

Say a young professional in New York may not be able to afford a car and a parking spot for that car. He or she may sign up for Zipcar, which lets consumers sign up to use a shared car for a set amount of time.

According to Lesley Mottla, executive vice president, product and member experience at Zipcar, Boston, nearly 94 percent of those consumers use smartphones.

?This is why we created the Zipcar iPhone and Android mobile apps,? Ms. Mottla said. ?Our members have the ability to make reservations while on the go, check their reservation info, unlock and lock and even honk the horn of their Zipcar.

?Beyond our own mobile apps, we?ve also partnered with key players in mobile navigation like Waze in order to get our members where they need to go,? she said. ?All of our efforts are focused on being purposeful and creating a simple, intuitive experience for our members, and we wanted to ensure the mobile app experience is as seamless as possible.?

Mobile inherently enables on-the-go, but companies and consumers are now learning that on-the-go enables sharing. If a consumer realized that he wanted to secure a Zipcar immediately, he could do so from any place and at any time.

Not only that but Zipcar also texts consumers to remind them about existing reservations.

Zipcar is definitely not the only company that is taking advantage of mobile and the sharing economy.

Consumers can share home-cooked meals with Mealku, apartments with Airbnb or cameras at BorrowLenses.

Another company called Splitwise lets consumers share a bill via mobile. Instead of having to later figure out who owes whom money, diners can figure it out while sitting it at the table in the restaurant using their phones.

?I definitely think Splitwise is part of that sharing on mobile trend,? Jon Bittner, CEO of Splitwise, Providence, RI, said. ?You?re sharing with your friends, you?re sharing some financial information with them.

?You can keep users engaged with what you do whenever they?re in a relevant context,? he said.

?One of the issues is how are you going to remember to split it when you get home, so mobile has always been a big part of our long-term strategy.?

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York