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Is Sharing Caring in China?

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 If you’ve never heard of the term ‘sharing economy’ while living in urban China, chances are that you’ve most certainly taken part of it in some way, shape or form. If you’ve ever taken a trip in an Uber taxi or ordered a ride through Didi Chuxing, used one of the newly introduced OFO bikes in Tianjin or even used room or home renting platforms like Airbnb or Tujia, you have been a contributor to China’s sharing economy. Defined as the sharing of human resources using a digital platform, today’s sharing economy makes the modern day citizen’s life more convenient, cost effective and less wasteful through sharing of rides or travel, space or even skills. 

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Where are we today?
 
Strong ‘sharing economies’ are already well established in highly developed countries like the US and UK. For global brands, China holds a wealth of opportunities for accessing the sharing economy.
 
Businesses and entrepreneurs are currently very excited about the potential for it in China today. In the transport industry, we see ride-hailing technology transforming the way citizens go around cities. Furthermore, it has been making travel much easier and convenient, keeping costs down in terms of travel sharing. In the e-commerce industry, Alibaba has recently invested $15million in creating digital flea market and app, Xianyu, aimed at giving users the opportunity to sell used goods. And, in Airbnb style, mainland Chinese companies such as Tujia have picked up on millennial travel trends to take advantage of the desire for younger travellers to embark on backpacker holidays at budget prices, opening up a market for sharing free home spaces to willing renters.
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How successful is it already? 
 
In 2015, the sharing economy in China was measured to be worth $299million. By 2020, it is expected to grow by 40 per cent, making up 10 per cent of China’s total GDP. But judging from its growth so far, can we really expect these figures to ring true?
 
Taking a look at the showdown between Uber and Didi Chuxing in 2016, it is clear that there is a strong demand for ride-sharing in urban China. Although Uber is largely successful in western countries, profits in Mainland China seemed to go amiss and the ride-sharing giant was making a loss amounting to millions. In the end, Uber agreed to sell to rival local company named Didi. The lessons are clear – if you want to successfully get in on the sharing economy in China, the strategy must be water-tight and match with the Chinese culture and its citizens at its heart. Only then can predictions for a stronger sharing economy be realised.
 
What’s on the shared horizon?
 
Co-working spaces is a concept that is becoming quickly popular in developed countries and cities that are often associated with start-up businesses and technology companies. To ‘co-work’ means to share office space with a number of small, but growing, companies to economise on space and resources in the beginning stages of a business. However, in China, this market is still young and ingrained culture of taking ownership of your own space for brand and ‘face-value’ purposes is very much still apparent. However, if China is to keep up with the tide and boost creativity and collaboration, it will look to develop more of these spaces, or even reuse currently empty spaces to support businesses and new creators in making culture, as well as the economy, great.
 
The obstacle course
 
Chinese society has a strong basis, filled with hard-to-break habits and customs. For the sharing economy to fulfil its potential there must be a change in mindset and values. Firstly, the mindset over ‘ownership’ must shift from total ownership for reputation and status to the business of renting and sharing or collaborating.
 
Furthermore, one of the hardest obstacles to overcome is how to establish better trust. Privacy is highly valued in Chinese society and whilst this surely needs to be upheld for the sharing economy to flourish, better trust needs to be built with partnerships before we can reach those 2020 goals. 
 
Where the sharing economy will end up is something that only time will tell.
 
 
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