The access economy could easily become a theme for a new season of In Treatment with its ongoing trust and behavioral issues. This week it lies on the couch of two researchers that tried to figure out why consumers don’t take good care of their Zipcars and what we can learn from it on consumer-object and consumer-to-consumer relationships in the sharing economy overall. The researchers, Prof. Fleura Bardhi and Prof. Giana Eckhardt present some very interesting findings. For example, they found that although Zipcar attempts to build a brand community, consumers currently do not want this type of engagement.
“Our study represents the first look at how consumers think, feel, and act when they are accessing rather than purchasing products, and we discovered that the nature of access-based consumption is inherently different from ownership,” the researchers write. So what is exactly the nature of access consumption and what does it mean for the future of the access economy?
The study, Sharing Isn’t Always Caring: Why Don’t Consumers Take Care of Their Zipcars?, will be published in December in the Journal of Consumer Research provides an interesting academic perspective on the access economy. The researchers identified six dimensions or types of access – temporality, anonymity, market mediation, consumer involvement, type of accessed object and political consumerism.
The study focuses on market-mediated access-based consumption and more specifically on car sharing, conducting it with Zipcar users. The researchers not only interviewed Zipcar users (40 in total), but also rode in Zipcars with them to gain a firsthand understanding of how consumers use Zipcars, conduct transactions, follow company regulation and so on. Their analysis generated four main findings that might be specific to Zipcar, but also provide valuable lessons to the rest of the access economy, including both peer-to-peer and market-mediated services:
1. Lack of identification with the accessed objects (or: Zipcar equals a hotel room): The researchers show how three of the dimensions of access – specifically short-term temporal duration, anonymity, and market mediation, inhibit a sense of identification with the item used. As Ashley, one of the interviewees said, “Zipcars are sort of like hotel rooms: they’re clean, anonymous, and comfortable but not really cozy. It’s like a hotel room kind of experience, where you’re in some place that’s really not yours; you’re never going to be really comfortable.” The conclusion was that similar to other services like hotel rooms, the relationship to the shared cars is one of instrumental utility rather than connection.
Lesson for the access economy: A sense of identification with your service is the Holy Grail but it doesn’t mean you can’t do well without it.