From Owners to Users
Why did we start renting, subscribing, and sharing instead of continuing to buy?
40 years ago, in 1982, the CD was introduced as a revolution in the music scene. Noise-free sound, transmitted via molded plastic data storage was now possible for the first time. But at the age of 40, the CD is already at the end of its life. In the past, we were proud to hold a CD in our hands and insert it into the player. Today we prefer to use the infinite on-demand music library of streaming services and we gladly accept not owning a single track.
The historical significance of ownership
Historically, the term ‘ownership’ had an important meaning. Whoever owned something was considered wealthy and superior to the majority population. In the Stone Age, the property was measured in jewelry, in the form of decorated animal bones. In ancient times, citizens already aspired to the ownership of houses and lands and in the Middle Ages, it was common to use the term ownership for land, as well as for people.¹ ² ³
Overall, ownership conveyed a sense of wealth and luxury. This perception persists to this day. After all, it is socially desirable to own an imposing property, a modern car, or clothing of a renowned brand. Such ownership not only signals prosperity and the “ability to afford it”. Ownership also gives a feeling of security. What belongs to you, no one can take away that easily.
The decay of ownership and the rise of usership
But will ownership continue to be that valuable? Market developments suggest otherwise. Many companies started to offer consumption models other than simply selling products. The concepts of renting, subscribing, sharing, or borrowing have found their way into many industries and are becoming more and more established. What was introduced for products of high value is now applicable to everyday items as well. Here are just a few examples of advancing rental, subscription, and refurbing concepts.
- Until recently, vehicles could only be leased for several years; today, it is possible to lease a car for several months or rent a vehicle for just one short trip
- Almost no one owns DVD players anymore, the Netflix subscription offers a much wider selection of on-demand movies
- Another new trend is the rental of designer items. Clothes or bags can be rented via a subscription model for a certain period and then returned in worn condition. ⁴ ⁵
- Used but professionally refurbished electronic products such as smartphones are also finding increasing consumer appeal
The reason for this seems obvious. People can’t afford to buy and own things these days. That may be true for some selected products — but for many products and services, there must be another reason. Statistics show that today’s generation has more disposable income than ever before. ⁶
The new consumption models mostly target the Millennial generation. This new buying group is said to no longer value ownership. The reasons for this are manifold: ⁷ ⁸
- Millennials are said to be more environmentally conscious than other generations. For them, reusing things or using them for longer and thus counteracting ‘fast consumption’ is very much in vogue. For sustainability reasons, concepts such as lending, renting, or reusing are highly desirable. They counteract the waste of resources and littering.
- The focus of Millennials has changed compared to previous generations. Ownership is not at the center of admiration, but flexibility and accessibility are. Millennials are less tied to a fixed location or status; they live lightly and travel more. Ownership rather inhibits this flexible lifestyle. Therefore, subscriptions and rentals better fit their need for frequently exchangeable and quickly accessible goods.
- Millennials place more value on experiences than on things. They do not value the accumulation of material goods or being tied to high-expense products. Instead, Millennials prefer to invest in quality-of-life purchases that create memorable adventures. And as diverse as such experiences are, products and services must adapt as well.
What to do when usership fully overruns ownership?
The trend toward ‚collaborative consumption’, i.e., sharing, lending, renting, or swapping, is likely to intensify as not only companies roll out lending and renting services, but also more and more private providers participate. The best examples are Uber and Airbnb, but other concepts are also on the rise, such as a platform through which neighbors can lend things or offer their one-time help.
So how should companies address the trend of usership?
At banbutsu, we focus on three key consumer requirements that go hand in hand with collaborative consumption: convenience, consistency, and customer service.
Longer-term contracts with recurring payments often mean more administrative effort than one-time purchases. However, consumers would prefer to organize everything with one single click and not have to worry about it afterward. banbutsu, therefore, relieves consumers of as much burden as possible with smart product and service suggestions, simple booking processing, and trustworthy fulfillment partners.
With so many different subscriptions, rental, and leasing contracts, it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on. In the worst-case scenario for the provider, subscription consumers receive a product or service but can’t remember that they signed up for it. The following invoice will then create customer frustration and negative feelings. That’s why it’s important to constantly remain in the customer’s memory. We achieve this through regular, targeted, and informative communication concepts.
Feeling informed and in good hands, especially when signing a subscription or lease for a long time, gives a sense of security. Customers want to be understood and listened to when problems arise. They often value this more than a low product price. We are convinced that personal customer service that addresses customers’ concerns and responds to them in a goal-oriented manner pays off.
The transition from ownership to usership means that companies in many industries will have to adapt their offerings. Instead of numbly observing this development, companies need to focus on the opportunities that arise from such consumption concepts. And especially for the environment, borrowing, sharing, renting, and lending promise a positive effect.