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The end of consumerism?

As some of the world's biggest economies continue to strain under recession, a new movement has emerged; the sharing economy. In the wake of the financial bust the sharing economy is changing the way we shop, buy, eat, commute and travel. Is this the end of consumerism as we know it? By Madeleine Acey

What is the sharing economy?

The sharing economy takes advantage of connected mobile technology to allow people to rent things temporarily that they either don't need to own permanently or can't afford.

Everything from cars, central city parking spaces and designer clothes to accommodation are available from individuals and companies that are making billions from providing easy access to what people need in a difficult economy.

But it's not always about money. Some just want to conserve resources and save the planet – feeling that it's wasteful for everyone to own, say, a lawnmower – when you could just borrow one for a dollar.

Transactions can be made quickly through a cell phone app or a web site.

How does this work?

If you have a luxury car that you rarely drive or a designer dress that you seldom wear, you can make it available for others to view and rent via their cell phones, tablets or computers for a tiny fraction of their retail value. This creates a whole new class of small-time retailers and happy luxury consumers.

The idea is that at the touch of a few buttons, you could have a drop-dead outfit, a killer car and a penthouse apartment for the night -- affordably.

Companies have also got in on the act and provide everything from everyday cars for use by the hour to private chefs on demand in your own home.

Some car clubs and at least one major room rental company have spread to dozens of cities around the world.

How is it changing our economy?

Collaborative consumption -- as some call it -- is said to be worth $3.5 billion this year.

As the idea has trickled down to people renting out their work-a-day cars, home parking spaces and bedrooms when not in use, experts say this will transform the level of car ownership and size of property that people buy. Researchers say that we only use our cars eight per cent of the time and we spend billions on the space where we store stuff that we almost never use, such as power tools.

They also say the sharing economy is expected to be worth $110 billion within the next few years.

What about the future?

The idea of non-ownership is spreading to things that we would normally keep for long periods of time. Solar panels are being rented rather than bought these days, for example.

The ease-of-use of mobile apps and payment technology amongst Shared Economy pioneers has led to them targeting the traditional business of others, such as package deliveries by logistics giants. Why shouldn’t it be as simple as touching a few buttons on your phone?

Companies are realising that rental relationships provide a gateway to brand loyalty with young technology-savvy people who will spread the word about their product. Renting a designer brand watch is a great way to get addicted to the idea of buying one once you can afford it. Which ever company gives you the easiest experience is likely to be the one to gain your business. Good mobile e-commerce technology is key.