When I posted a video of Robert Llewellyn checking out the car sharing culture of Berlin, I noted that he seemed a little freaked out about getting into a car he didn't own and driving off with it.
The fact is that car sharing, and the much talked about collaborative consumption revolution in general, require a fundamentally different attitude to ownership, access, responsibility and the relationship between consumers and brands.
A new study of Zipcar users looks at attitudes to the cars they use, and unsurprisingly finds people less connected with the product, less inclined to take care of it, and less engaged with the brand overall. Interestingly, however, they also seem to view the brand as the enforcer of rules, and even want more of such rules to keep things running smoothly:
"Zipcar uses a strict style of governance to maintain compliance with the rules of car sharing to make sure cars aren't brought back late, the gas tank is filled, etc. Consumers like and even want more of this surveillance, as they feel it is the only way the system can work effectively, since they don't trust each other to obey the rules without Zipcar's heavy handed enforcement,"
The study, conducted by Fleura Bardhi (Northeastern University) and Giana M. Eckhardt (Suffolk University) doesn't by any means discredit the concept of the sharing economy. But it does place a question mark next to some of the more ideologically-driven analysis we may have seen. It also supports the notion that collaborative consumption is at least as much a business model as it is a movement, and that one of the primary challenges for new companies in the sharing economy is building a sense of trust and responsibility.
If products are giving way to services, then ownership is a concept in flux. This study helps point the way to some of the challenges shift will present.