Is the Sharing Economy Model the Future of Retail?

On Tuesday I attended the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum and Peterson Series event about “The Sharing Economy” with Adam Werbach and Andy Ruben, co-founders of yerdle. This event, hosted by the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Center for Responsible Business, was structured as a talk-show with Lisa Gansky, chief instigator of Mesh labs, as the moderator and Werbach and Ruben of yerdle the main speakers.

yerdle 1Werbach, co-founder of yerdle and founder of Saatchi and Saatchi S (the sustainability branch) claims that self-storage has gone up 1,000 percent in the last 30 years. He states that we have an overabundance of “stuff” and storing it is a waste of natural resources. He feels the sharing economy is an opportunity to think about environmentalism and bring a sensible strategy into a capitalist model. Ruben, co-founder of yerdle, directed global strategy at Wal-Mart and then became Wal-Mart’s first Chief Sustainability Officer. In that position, he realized how much “stuff” we consume on a global scale. Ruben argues it’s not enough just to make products better; a new sustainable approach must be implemented.

Gansky introduced the idea of a sharing economy and its increasing prevalence in the 21st century. To conceptualize the sharing economy, think about Lyft, ZipCar, or Air BnB, which have become large marketplaces. With the influx of technology and specifically smartphones, we can remove the friction of sharing and create new markets. Data is the gateway to sharing because it increases our awareness and access to what exists. Gansky said that “technology connects us, but it is humanity that unites us. The heart of innovation is founded upon the culture of generosity.” With that mindset, Werbach and Ruben created yerdle.

yerdle is a California for Benefit Corporation that challenges the traditional brick and mortar consumption model andyerdle 2 instead aims to reduce consumption of durable goods by 25 percent. yerdle is a sharing and shopping mobile app that works to make redistribution as appealing as consumption. The app taps into unused inventory and tries to eliminate excess through reciprocation; “get rid of something you don’t want anymore and find something you want in return.”

When you download the yerdle app, you receive 250 credits. With these credits, you can browse free things on the app and make an offer with credits when you find something you want. Every time you post a photo of an item you’re willing to give away, you earn more credits and are able to consume more.

yerdle 3Afterwards, I reflected on the Sharing Economy speech with one of my good friends and fellow Haas student. Like Gansky, she acknowledges how much technological advancements and social media have created a greater need to share and feels yerdle positioned itself well to ride the trend and capitalize on the sharing need. However, she argues yerdle is a tool intended for the bourgeoisie because to participate in yerdle and gain credits you need items that you’re willing and able to “share.” People in need cannot earn more credits because they do not have excess items to give away. Therefore, she believes that while yerdle is well-positioned idea, she doubts that it will completely change the model for retailers that Ruben and Werbach propose.

We have created a culture of consumption that Ruben and Werbach believe is a serious concern. It is no doubt that yerdle is innovative in rising to the challenge of reframing consumption and redistribution. Moving forward, we will continue to see an increasing amount of these sharing economy start-ups and organizations. However, will a sharing economy and redistribution create a new foundation for social capitalism to evolve or will it just create more market inequities?

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