1 posts categorized "ZipCar"

02/03/2009 Can Online Help Solve the Financial Crisis?

As I watch our economic quicksand grow, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about micro-transactions and wondering how companies can provide savings and value. In doing so, I think the Web might be able to play a new role in helping us dig out of our economic meltdown.

One of the biggest problems our economy faces today is that no one is willing to spend money on big, or even medium ticket items any more. Maybe it’s because we realize we have to stop maxing out our credit cards. Or maybe we realize that those items weren’t that important in the long run. One of the problems, though, is that when we stop buying big things, it has some strong ripple effects down through the economy. Circuit City disappearing shows what can happen.

Can the Web help? Here’s an interesting starting point:

The Web is good at is bringing people together like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Others sites like NexTag, PriceGrabber and BizRate help find the lowest prices. The problem now isn’t lowest price, it’s how do you get someone to fork over the money.

Is there a micro payment solution? Probably not, except for an extremely long layaway plan. But if we thought, instead, of how to break up the cost and benefits, maybe we could use the Web to find friends and neighbors to split the cost and ownership of these big-ticket items.

A conversation with a neighbor prompted this. Almost everyone on my street (except for me and one other greenie at the end of the street) has a snow blower. While that’s been good for Toro and the like, it seemed like everyone having one was kind of a waste of money. If we had connected and talked about this, we might have purchased them together and shared them? Same goes for things like pressure washers and other home equipment.

That’s what I think the Web could do. Imagine a family, or two or three, who can’t afford the $500 or $600 Wii bundle. But if you broke that down to $150-$200 among three families, that might be doable. You’d get the Wii every third week, and probably get your kids out of your house for the other two weeks.

How about a system to bring together neighbors to share handymen or contactors for yard work or home improvement? That would be good for both small business men and homeowners. Could we share a broadband connection? If one home got a big broadband pipe and a great Wireless Router, you could probably split the cost pretty easily. While this assumes a reduced consumption, it assumes continued consumption and could help turn around some ailing industries.

Now, all we need is a way to bring people together to break up those payments and share in the ownership.

Businesses like ZipCar or SmartBike already tap into this type of consumerism, but they build from a renting model instead of an ownership model.

A solution could be a CraigsList/Facebook/PriceGrabber of buyers groups (or unions now that Obama says that’s okay again). We talk about how the Web has given control to the consumer, but I think something like this would really give control to consumers while encouraging more consumption which our economy needs right now.

Yup, the ownership thing could get messy. Yes, it is a collectivist solution for a nation weaned on individualism. But in extreme situations, as this financial meltdown, we owe it to each other to challenge and examine some long-held beliefs. And if you really want to own it on your own instead of sharing, you can always do that instead.

When things are good, sharing isn’t very interesting. Everyone wants his or her own. But it bad times, sharing is essential. Maybe its time we looked at this a little closer.

My Web Sites