A lot has been written on the impact the sharing economy has had and will have on the logistics and transportation sector. Some have even moved so far as to predict that the sharing economy and the new opportunities it represents will destruct the traditional industry eventually (The New Economy). Others are less extreme in their predictions and talk more about the rise of new complementary business models and opportunities to collaborate (The International Transport Forum; Mckinsey; PWC).
In my view, the transportation sector is well established. Decades of investments, that easily accumulate trillion of dollars globally, are not easily replaced. Most businesses based on the sharing economy (i.e. Zipcar, AirBnB, Yerdle) also exist because they find ways to capitalize on these previous and continuous investments made by the existing industry or private individuals. Hence there should be synergies to be explored between the existing industry and the sharing economy. Let me ask a hypothetical question: What would have happened if Uber and the taxi industry had partnered in the early days. If we assume the taxi industry would have been receptive to new innovations and business models, perhaps both parties would have benefited rather than ending up as rivals. Uber could have saved billions of dollars on driver acquisitions; and expensive head on head marketing campaigns would have been obsolete. However, I did not raise this hypothetical question to encourage further speculation into what-if-scenarios.
I am the founder of Transfervans, which is best described as an Uber style delivery service for over-sized items. The idea came when I bought a new couch from a retailer on a Saturday but was told that they only deliver to my area between 8am – 5pm on Wednesday. Since I am working full-time it meant I would have to be at home the whole day to wait for the delivery. I tried to find an alternative delivery service but did not succeed. Given that everyone we spoke to had had a similar experience, we decided to build a business to solve this problem. Essentially, Transfervans is an online platform that connects customers in need of a delivery with van or truck owners. We solely focus on last-mile-deliveries, which amounts up to 28% of the total transportation cost of goods (Wikipedia). The last-mile-delivery network is also considered the least efficient part of the existing transportation network. Since our launch in June 2016, the market response has been well beyond our expectations.
Businesses such as ours that understand the sharing economy and possess the technical know-how to build popular platforms can create new opportunities that would not be accessible to the existing industry. But the existing industry also possesses capabilities and assets (i.e. optimisation, scale and fleet) that would help newcomers to expand faster and create additional value to be shared.
I foresee the sharing economy to become more embedded into the transportation industry in the future. How soon? That depends on the willingness among both the existing industries as well as so called ‘disruptive startups’ to listen rather than ignore each other. I see real opportunities for us, as well as for the existing industry, to focus on creating synergies and opportunities for collaboration rather than trying to compete or destruct what already exist.