The sharing economy (including the likes of Airbnb and Uber as well as TaskRabbit and blablacar) takes reliance on trust to new levels. I’m a regular Airbnb user. When I book somewhere, I trust that it exists, looks like the pictures shown, is clean and tidy and safe. The owner trusts that I won’t trash the place and will abide by their rules. We trust Airbnb to facilitate our transaction and Airbnb trusts that we keep our ends of the bargain, to not destroy the place, leave it filthy, or worse. That’s a lot of trust in a single transaction!
As of July 2017, 62% of the UK adults claimed to have participated in the sharing economy in some way.86
Once we start seeing the benefit of the sharing economy in one area, we’re likely to start embracing it in others – 73% of those who use some sort of sharing economy platform once a month or more frequently also use other services.87 Familiarity plays a role in uptake, but trust is a major barrier. In 2017, PWC identified trust as a key issue for the sharing economy to tackle88 – and that hasn’t improved with time. Using social intelligence, we have found that concerns about trust seem especially high in ride-sharing – not just Uber, but any type of ride-sharing service; some of these are generic “I don’t trust them” and others more specific, especially physical safety concerns. In fact, an audit of social media perceptions showed that nearly six in ten of the randomly selected posts about trust and sharing economy brands in the UK were about people saying they did not trust the company or brand providing the sharing economy service.89 Lack of trust in the individual providing the service was also especially noted.
A knotty issue is the one of responsibility: who has responsibility for poor service at Uber or Airbnb? Over the last ten years, studies have shown that sharing economy users are more likely to say the platforms themselves have responsibility, rather than the individuals providing the goods or service on them.90
Lawsuits and complaints about assaults demonstrate that this is especially true with background checks.91 If we look into our social media analysis, consumers frequently name the platform providers as culprits, especially for not vetting the sellers enough, again particularly true with ride-sharing platforms. For example, in London in particular the safety issue is a real one as there is no real vetting of Uber drivers as there is for black cabs. This desire for corporate responsibility is not entirely surprising – we’ve seen in other studies that people are more likely to put the responsibility on the government or a corporation than on individuals, for example in dealing with waste.92
Peer-to-peer interactions, on which the sharing economy relies, can be difficult to police, but platforms are going to need to build and maintain trust. The power of social media means every negative interaction has the potential to make a mark – chipping away at reputation and trust. The platforms themselves need to be more actively involved to address trust issues, as some have been doing already, or they can expect more government intervention.