Paul Greenberg

Is collaborative consumption the new online retail?

Paul Greenberg outlines the rise of companies like Airbnb and Uber and wonders if collaborative consumption is the new online retail?


The rise and rise of the sharing economy continues to impress, as do the business models of companies like Airbnb, Uber, and Airtasker. Always nostalgic I think back to my experience with DealsDirect which is now over a decade old.

Whilst it true to say there was a thrill watching the growth of pure play retail, we knew we were involved in heavy infrastructure business.

Enormous warehouses, laden with products.

Containers of wares being unloaded daily into kilometres of pallet racking, and enormous trucks picking up thousands and thousands of packed parcels in metal cages.

What perhaps initially held the promise of a ‘virtual’ business, soon showed me that this was in fact a heavy infrastructure model, with the ever-elusive pursuit of ‘scale’ a challenge.

These are great businesses and my admiration for local examples like Ozsale, Catch of the Day, GraysOnline and many others, continues.

But the dynamic and iterative space of collaborative consumption holds the true promise of a virtual asset-lite but robust marketplace delivering the ultimate retail experience. Taking a surplus to need is not a new concept but our powerful connected technologies today bring this to life.


Originally published on Which-50. Reprinted with permission.

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  4. Rainer the cabbie said:

    The shared economy, a hobby horse of mine. The idea of the shared economy was a great one, one of sharing resources by true cooperation. This especially worked great for charities. But how the writer here manages to throw what we see as the shared economy models of today with online sales does not make much sense to me.

    So I buy my book online as opposed to my local retailer. The shop goes broke, the employees lose their job and the retail rent goes south. Fair enough, I get my cheap book.
    But to apply this model to services, such as transport, accommodation and traditional services supplied by trade is another matter.
    The model of the SE we seen so far encourages untrained people to participate in what are skilled jobs. It also opens these services up to big numbers of participants who, by competition, will drive down the price.
    Question remains, will they do an adequate job, one that has some sort of guarantee in it. Further, how can they do it when the return is so small?

    The much bigger issue here is also one of training, providing skills for the future. Whoever does that now will not be around in the future because they have gone broke. The other question is also one of collective bargaining, something we have seen in trades via union representation.

    I remain very doubtful about the shared economy models we are seeing where the ultimate winner is the technology companies that drive it, not the “sub contractors” who supply the service. At the bottom level it will be dog eat dog whilst the top makes all the money. I’ve seen it for far too long in the taxi industry where this principle applied and that was with training and restricted numbers. To see this ruse made into a new economic concept gives me shivers.

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