Millennial Mind

Covid spells opportunity for sharing economy

Firms offering sharing services have become more appealing now, especially to millennials

One month into the circuit breaker period, I had to admit that my weighing scale was telling me the stark truth. Hours of munching by the laptop while cooped up indoors had caught up with me.

The digital native that I am, I immediately turned to the Internet gods for help to get back in shape and was rewarded with lean-meal choices on GrabFood and home workout rental equipment listings on Carousell.

As delivery and disinfection were guaranteed, I chose to rent workout items on Carousell, including dumb-bells, resistance tubes and a balance ball for about $40, relieved that I had the option to return the bulky load or extend my use of it if I wanted.

Contrary to the ominous predictions by market watchers of the sharing economy's near-total collapse, captured in Bloomberg Businessweek ("The sharing economy faces the abyss", March 20) and other reports, the sharing economy seems to have extended its reach to and influence on millennials this year.

A 2015 PwC study termed the sharing economy as a model where users share their idle capacities and resources (assets, services, money) on an on-demand basis, usually through an information technology platform.

Digital sharing platforms are not new, having mushroomed in Singapore and globally in the last decade.

The public health regulations imposed during the coronavirus pandemic have crystallised the appeal of these companies to users - in particular, working millennials - who are attracted to the convenience and door-to-door efficiency these platforms promise.

Twenty out of 22 millennials I contacted said they had frequented a sharing-based digital platform more since the start of the pandemic. Some said these platforms gave them a sense of control in the early days when Covid-19 cases were rising.

One friend said she liked to book an affordable short Grab ride instead of facing the rush hour public commute and fear of infection.

Another shared that he opted for a delivery of rental props for a family birthday party instead of going out to buy them himself.

Younger consumers are more likely to use digital platforms than older ones as we tend to trust peers we interact with in this space. This need for trust has become all the more evident during a pandemic.

Like how staff in establishments are expected to maintain product and service standards; in the sharing economy, we expect a car owner to keep her car clean or an Airbnb operator to thoroughly sanitise his residence before we book in for the night.


As digital natives, we understand the power of online reputation. Give a user a poor experience, and he will be quick to write you a bad review. In this way, checks and balances are maintained, making for richer user experiences.

Besides convenience and trust, millennials also favour access over ownership. Growing up in the shadow of the 2008 financial crisis, we have a desire for experiences, and prefer using something rather than owning it.

So I once signed up for a Style Theory subscription - a clothes-rental service. Each month, a pack of three pieces of clothing I chose on its easy-to-use app would be delivered, nestled in tissue paper. I returned the clothes worn and unlaundered, as the service would have them cleaned before sending them on to the next hirer.

I enjoyed the fresh-pressed, tailored cut and fabric of each piece that I would otherwise have had to spend a small fortune on. My monthly package cost me $59, and saved me time and effort.

When I decided to stop after two months, all it took was a few taps and clicks on the app to be free of the commitment. I had found access to high-end apparel at a reasonable price, without ever owning one piece.

My experience with rental clothing highlights the last and perhaps most important feature of the sharing economy: sustainability.

Millennials have been bombarded with grim facts and figures threatening irreversible climate change if we do not switch to sustainable models in nearly all aspects of our everyday life.

With more Singaporean consumers paying attention to their carbon footprint, the sharing economy will continue to grow as an attractive alternative to ownership.

While Covid-19 has led many to turn to sharing options, Professor Costas Courcoubetis from the Singapore University of Technology and Design pointed out that Covid-19 has affected companies within the sharing economy differently.

Those delivering groceries or takeaway food, or involved in storage or logistics, have done better because they provide services that are in greater demand while people are staying home and isolating, limiting the time they spend outside and their interactions with others.

In sectors reeling from the pandemic as people cut back on travel and transport, companies offering sharing services are doing better than their traditional counterparts.

Said Prof Courcoubetis: "At a time when business is down by 80 per cent, Uber and Airbnb's layoffs represented only about 25 per cent of each company's full-time employee base."

For consumers, these multiple platforms have become an integral part of our lives during the last few months, and while we would be sad to see some of them go, we will be quick to snap up their replacements.

With Deepavali around the corner, I have my sights set on a sharing app that allows useful but unwanted items to change hands between users: Olio.

With no large, happy family gatherings in sight, gifts of chocolate and unused tea boxes are wasting away in my kitchen. Maybe my surplus food listing on the app might be just the right treat to make someone else's day a bit better during this pandemic.

Millennial Mind

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 01, 2020, with the headline Covid spells opportunity for sharing economy. Subscribe