'Sharing economy' apps to boom with their lure of cheap and easy

Global revenue from sharing economy companies like Uber and Airbnb will grow from $15 billion annually today to $335 billion in 2025.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read

Enlarge Image
A new PwC survey finds that more people are taking part in the sharing economy. PwC

Sharing means a lot more than caring in the digital world -- it also means big business.

The number of people using "sharing economy" apps like Uber, Airbnb and Lyft is forecast to keep growing at a quick pace, according to a new survey.

Nearly half of US adults are aware of sharing economy companies, and a majority foresee themselves using them within the next two years, according to a survey from business services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Not only do people plan to turn to those companies more frequently, but they say they have good reason to do so. Of the 44 percent of US adults aware of the sharing economy, 86 percent said they believe it makes life more affordable, 83 percent said it makes life more convenient and 78 percent said it builds a stronger community.

"Trust, convenience and a sense of community are all factors in pushing adoption of the sharing economy forward," PwC said in its report. "The innovation clock is now set to fast-pace, and will get even faster as consumers become more trusting of relationships tied to social sentiment and communities of users."

Companies within the sharing economy span the gamut. Some services let people swap bicycles, cameras, tools, and musical instruments. Others, like Airbnb and VRBO, let people sublet their rooms or entire homes when they're not around. Car-sharing services, like Uber and Lyft, let people use their own cars to give strangers a ride -- acting as impromptu taxis. And companies like Feastly connect diners with cooks for a restaurant-like experience at home.

PwC's survey will likely add to the already bubble-like nature of large sharing economy firms such as Uber, which has a valuation of $41.2 billion and is the second-highest valued venture-backed company in the world. The underlying theme of the sharing economy is that if people pool resources, goods, and services, the world will become a more cooperative and waste-free place. Critics say, however, that some sharing economy companies make money off those who work for them, but they don't necessarily improve the lives of everyone who participates.

For its report, PwC surveyed 1,000 US adults from different regions, age groups and income levels for one week in December. It found that the rise of social networking, mobile use and cloud computing has boosted the number of people involved in the sharing economy. Nineteen percent of the total US adult population has taken part in the sharing economy with the biggest age group being 18- to 24-year-olds.

The sharing economy market is already flush with cash but it's going to get richer, according to PwC. The research firm estimates that global revenue from sharing economy companies, which is roughly $15 billion today, will increase to around $335 billion by 2025. In order for companies to have continued success, however, they'll need to focus on gaining trust with users, according to PwC's report.

"Discerning consumers are factoring friction into the value equation so creating a seamless experience will be an imperative for success," said Deborah Bothun, PwC's entertainment, media and communications leader, in a statement. "Flawless digital tools, elegantly simple search and smooth transactions are not merely a nice-to-have for companies today -- they are a requirement for all players in the sharing economy."