Fundamental to the sharing economy is the reality that people are either renting or lending something to strangers. This may just be a dress or toy, or it might be a house or car. Or in the case of peer to peer services people are trusting a stranger with something they value, such as their pet or just their time and personal safety. No one wants to feel that they are taking a risk with something important to them. And so the the issue of trust is very important to the success of sharing economy businesses, especially with more valuable items like homes and cars. Sharing economy businesses are tackling this problem of trust with some interesting solutions. Depending on the service offered companies handle trust differently, but most address it somehow.
In the case of home rentals, many people cite fear over having strangers with access to their home when considering whether they want to offer a rental on a site like Airbnb. Among the house swap community I’ve heard a lot of people say they feel much more comfortable swapping than renting out their home because of the pre-swap interactions which inspire confidence and trust in their swap partners. In addition, simultaneous home exchange means the swappers know where their swap partners live which inspires more trust because anonymous crime is pretty much impossible. This points to the value of personal connections in building trust for people participating in sharing economy services.
RelayRides is a peer to peer car rental company like those I’ve discussed in my review of transportation options in the sharing economy. This idea of renting out your car to strangers to earn some extra cash has attracted a lot of start ups in recent years. Relay Rides, a U.S. based company, has been around longer than most, and their business model has evolved from anonymous peer to peer rental (using unlocking technology) to a more personal interaction where owners and renters must meet to exchange keys. The RelayRides CEO reports that this personal interaction, where car owners and renters meet before the rental begins, has led to much more satisfaction on both sides. I think the interpersonal interaction is something we can’t ignore in building trust in sharing economy services.
In a variation on the interpersonal interaction, many peer to peer companies encourage reviews of all parties to the exchange or transaction, with the idea that people will base their trust on community reviews. Even if you can’t assess someone’s trustworthiness for yourself, at least you can look at the collective opinions of others.
In a different approach to building personal trust, some companies claim to be building a community, with the idea that this will foster a sense of trust and reliability. But I have yet to encounter a sharing economy business open to the public that leads me to feel I can trust people just because of their membership. There is very little interaction between users of these services beyond the actual service itself, and so I think this idea of community building is a bit unrealistic if these services hope to scale to a profitable size.
There are also some less personal approaches to building trust. Some companies offer verification services. For instance Relay Rides checks all drivers’ records before allowing them to rent a car and GuesttoGuest verifies it’s home exchange members are who they say they are. And many companies in the peer to peer lodging and automobile businesses offer insurance, as do some home exchange services.
How companies solve this problem of getting people to trust strangers may be fundamental to their success or failure in the sharing economy.