| Glossary | Economy & Labour | Sharing economy

Sharing economy

Definition and delimitation

Sharing economy is an umbrella term for an emerging form of economy in which tangible and intangible resources are shared with strangers [1]. Typically, the sharing economy combines sharing, exchanging, renting or making available underutilised resources in the form of goods (e.g. unused housing or vehicles) or services (e.g. underutilised labour) on a monetary or non-monetary basis using digital platforms [2, 3].

Collaborative consumption, which includes the sharing economy, is fundamentally a very old concept [4]as people have always shared resources. More recent examples include “neighbours helping neighbours”, flea markets or second-hand shops [4]. However, sharing within the sharing economy is fundamentally different from these traditional forms of sharing, where the sharing of resources was mainly limited to interactions with already known individuals, such as family members, and known social groups [5] or at least required personal or direct exchange [6].

In the sharing economy, technology-enabled platforms take on the role of intermediary and significantly reduce transaction costs between providers and users by, among other things, reducing the need for face-to-face contact [6, 7, 8, 9]. This creates a scalable socio-economic system based on crowdsourcing [10]. Sharing economy platforms are multi-sided markets that enable their users to fulfil new roles and tasks normally performed by companies themselves, and in which users can thus act as both providers and demanders [11]. Sellers give users the opportunity to buy temporary rights to use unused resources. Users enjoy the advantage of not having to worry about purchase or maintenance and can also save costs [11].

In summary, the sharing economy is characterised by five main features [10]:

  1. Based on platform economy
  2. Many individual users provide the supply side (crowdsourcing)
  3. Users are providers and demanders (multi-sided market)
  4. Temporary access instead of permanent ownership
  5. Value is exchanged in the context of an economic transaction


The term sharing economy first appeared in academic literature during the 2008 financial crisis. Lawrence Lessig was possibly the first to use the specific term [3]. So while the sharing economy is a comparatively new phenomenon, within a few years it has upended entire industries and become one of the most important global trends of recent years, and its growth is set to continue even further [12]. While the global turnover figures of the sharing economy were still around 15 billion dollars in 2013, turnover of over 335 billion dollars is already forecast for the year 2025 [12].

Application and examples

Especially in the mobility, travel, food, fashion, services and finance sectors, there are many business models and platforms that make use of the sharing economy and are also well accepted by users. A 2019 YouGov survey on the sharing economy shows that in Germany, for example, 84 percent of respondents can imagine using sharing services in the mobility sector in the future [13]. 67 per cent say they are already doing so [13]. Similarly, 61 per cent of those who took part in the survey said they had already used sharing offers for travel [13].

The best-known commercial examples are listed here:

UberMobilityDriving service: works like a taxi company, drivers are requested and also paid via an app
Car 2 Go / Share NowMobilityCar sharing: Vehicles can be rented from a pool and paid for according to how long they are used
BlaBlaCarMobilityOnline car-sharing agency: users offer a ride in their private vehicle or search for car-sharing opportunities
AirbnbTravelMarketplace for accommodation: Private accommodation is rented out to tourist guests
Too Good to GoFoodFoodsharing: businesses can offer leftover food on an app at a discounted price
Clothes roundabout / VintedFashionMarketplace for clothes: Used clothes can be offered for sale on an app
Book a TigerServicesMarketplace for cleaners for private households and also for companies
CompanistoFinanceCrowdfunding: International equity-based crowdfunding website that allows investors to invest in start-ups

Criticism and problems

Some of the above platforms potentially have a positive impact on society or the environment, such as the use of otherwise discarded food or the possibility to resell used clothes instead of throwing them away. The sharing economy also offers people the opportunity to realise an (additional) income, e.g. with offered rides via Uber or BlaBlaCar. However, the working conditions are often criticised, especially because of the lack of labour protection and regulations [14]. Some sharing economy companies operate in legal grey areas [15]. Legislators and authorities are overwhelmed by the rapid growth and the equally rapidly changing business models of start-ups and larger companies in the sharing economy and are sometimes unable to react quickly enough to these changes [16]. There are also particularly large conflicts with the “old economy” (e.g. through the hotel lobby speaking out against AirBnB, the taxi companies against Uber, etc.), which is trying to shield its markets from the influence of the sharing economy [17]. Uber, for example, is completely or partially banned in some countries in Europe for this reason, among others. In England, France, the Czech Republic and Turkey, for example, the Uber app is considered illegal and distorts competition [17]. In Germany, too, the Uber apps violate the Passenger Transport Act and are therefore banned in some German cities [18]. Another point of criticism is that the platforms of the sharing economy also do not protect the users enough. For example, they often only take on the role of intermediaries and do not offer any guarantee for the users [13]. Overall, some platforms are accused of maximising their own value at the expense of others [19, 20].


Due to the high practical relevance of the sharing economy, academic research has also dealt intensively with the topic in recent years [10].

Different disciplines, such as marketing [21, 10], management [22, 23 ] or information systems [24, 25], regularly publish articles on this topic in their leading journals. The topic also plays an important role at major international scientific conferences.

Further links and literature

Recommended reading:

  • Agarwal, N., & Steinmetz, R. (2019). Sharing economy: A systematic literature review. International Journal of Innovation and Technology Management, 16(06), 1930002.
  • Chang, H. H., & Sokol, D. D. (2020). How incumbents respond to competition from innovative disruptors in the sharing economy-The impact of Airbnb on hotel performance. Strategic Management Journal, 1-22.
  • Chen, Y., & Wang, L. (2019). Commentary: marketing and the sharing economy: digital economy and emerging market challenges. Journal of Marketing, 83(5), 28-31.
  • Eckhardt, G. M., Houston, M. B., Jiang, B., Lamberton, C., Rindfleisch, A., & Zervas, G. (2019). Marketing in the sharing economy. Journal of Marketing, 83(5), 5-27.
  • Horton, J. J., & Zeckhauser, R. J. (2016). Owning, using and renting: some simple economics of the “sharing economy” (No. w22029). National Bureau of Economic Research.
  • Mittendorf, C., Berente, N., & Holten, R. (2019). Trust in sharing encounters among millennials. Information Systems Journal, 29(5), 1083-1119.
  • Weber, T. A. (2014). Intermediation in a sharing economy: insurance, moral hazard, and rent extraction. Journal of Management Information Systems, 31(3), 35-71.


[1] Morewedge, C., Monga, A., Palmatier, R., Shu, S., & Small, D. (2020). Evolution of Consumption: A Psychological Ownership Framework. Journal Of Marketing, 85(1), 196–218.

[2] Botsman, R. (2013). The Sharing Economy Lacks A Shared Definition. Abgerufen am 20.06.2021.

[3] Lessig, Lawrence (2008), Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin Press.

[4] Belk, R. W., Sherry Jr, J. F., & Wallendorf, M. (1988). A Naturalistic Inquiry into Buyer and Seller Behavior at a Swap Meet. Journal of Consumer Research, 14(4), 449–470.

[5] Lamberton, C. (2016). Collaborative Consumption: A Goal-Based Framework. Current Opinion in Psychology, 10, 55–59.

[6] Frenken, K., & Schor, J. (2017). Putting the Sharing Economy into Perspective. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 23, 3–10.

[7] Bardhi, F., & Eckhardt, G. M. (2012). Access-Based Consumption: The Case of Car Sharing. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(4), 881–898.

[8] Eckhardt, G. M., & Bardhi, F. (2015). The Sharing Economy isn’t about Sharing at all. Harvard Business Review, 28(1), 881–898.

[9] Tadelis, S. (2016). Reputation and Feedback Systems in Online Platform Markets. Annual Review of Economics, 8, 321–340.

[10] Eckhardt, G. M., Houston, M. B., Jiang, B., Lamberton, C., Rindfleisch, A., & Zervas, G. (2019). Marketing in the Sharing Economy. Journal of Marketing, 83(5), 5–27.

[11] Codagnone, C., & Martens, B. (2016). Scoping the Sharing Economy: Origins, Definitions, Impact and Regulatory Issues. Institute for Prospective Technological Studies Digital Economy Working Paper, 2016/1.

[12] PwC. Sharing or Paring? Growth of the Sharing Economy. PwC. (2015). Abgerufen am 25.06.2021.

[13] Fischlein, M. (2019, 14. Oktober). Kaufst Du noch oder teilst Du schon? – Zukunfts-Trend Sharing Economy. YouGov. Abgerufen am 12.06.2021.

[14] Sharing Economy. unternehmer.de. (n.d.). Abgerufen am 16.06.2021.

[15] Weber, F., Lehmann, J., Graf‐Vlachy, L., & König, A. (2019). Institution‐Infused Sensemaking of Discontinuous Innovations: The Case of the Sharing Economy. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 36(5), 632–660.

[16] Werner, K. (2015, 12. Februar). Für die alten Marken ist Sharing Economy ein Drama. Süddeutsche.de. Abgerufen am 26.06.2021.

[17] Hartmann, J. (2019, 27. Dezember). Die Liste wird länger: Uber jetzt auch in Kolumbien verboten. Taxi Times | Das Fachmagazin für die Taxibranche. Abgerufen am 15.06.2021.

[18] LTO. (2020, 10. Februar). Uber in München: Wieder ein Verbot – wieder zu spät? Legal Tribune Online. Abgerufen am 17.06.2021.

[19] Gondorf, L. (2019, 10. Januar). Teilen und absahnen – die Kehrseite der Sharing Economy. absatzwirtschaft. Abgerufen am 10.06.2021.

[20] Buhalis, D., Andreu, L., & Gnoth, J. (2020). The Dark Side of the Sharing Economy: Balancing Value Co‐Creation and Value Co‐Destruction. Psychology & Marketing, 37(5), 689–704.

[21] Belk, R. (2010). Sharing. Journal of Consumer Research, 36(5), 715–734.

[22] Chang, H. H., & Sokol, D. D. (2020). How Incumbents Respond to Competition from Innovative Disruptors in the Sharing Economy—The Impact of AirBnB on Hotel Performance. Strategic Management Journal.

[23] Horton, J. J., & Zeckhauser, R. J. (2016). Owning, Using and Renting: Some Simple Economics of the “Sharing Economy” (No. w22029). National Bureau of Economic Research.

[24] Weber T. A. (2014) Intermediation in a Sharing Economy: Insurance, Moral Hazard, and Rent Extraction. Journal of Management Information Systems, 31(3), 35–71.

[25] Mittendorf, C., Berente, N., & Holten, R. (2019). Trust in Sharing Encounters among Millennials. Information Systems Journal, 29(5), 1083–1119.