I have never associated myself with “business.” I consider myself to be creative and quirky (no Excel spreadsheets and pressed suits for me). Hell, I squeaked out a C in mathematics, so someone just has to say the word “fraction” and I break out in a cold sweat. Until recently, I thought that vile math-meets-business-studies concoction had died along with the rest of my youth, but I have recently found myself confronted with yet another formula that I can’t quite get my head around.
C2C, or “share economy” (for those who hate acronyms), can be defined as the lending and selling of underused goods from one person to another. It started rearing its head during the offset of the crisis and has now morphed into something that is no longer confined to those creamy peach newspapers I bypass (guiltily?) on the newsstand. Suddenly, part-time entrepreneurship has become everyone’s latest side project, much like the spinning craze or cooking with quinoa. The whole world seems to rave on about how C2C is turning B2C on its head.
You don’t have to look far to see that this is, in fact, happening. Airbnb, whose name doesn’t need an introduction, has become our societal benchmark of how C2C business likes to approach things a little differently. Aside from the fact that rental transactions are entirely orchestrated by the consumer, the company has flipped other corporate signifiers, such as its logo, into something altogether unique. Instead of a reflection of the company, the Airbnb logo serves as a mirror of the customers themselves: As the company states, “Our logo belongs to everyone.”
On the Airbnb blog, its logo is heightened to a symbol of the community, and an emblem of the personal as well as financial benefits of using Airbnb. By doing so, the company fulfills its wish to do what no other company has ever done before. Airbnb is not just creating a dialogue with its customers. Rather, it is digesting what it says and feeding it back into the company ethos. Even its freshly launched in-house magazine, Pineapple, lacks the latest publishing craze for more adverts and less content. Airbnb consumers are a cocktail of products, consumers and a co-boss in one. It’s essentially a business community, not a business per se.
Community is increasingly becoming a driver that instructs the very mechanics of a C2C setup. Take the European car-sharing website, Bla Bla Car, a platform where you can look for or advertise a space in a car, for example. Here, customer interaction shapes the financial planning as well as the site’s main function. The site’s co-founder, Nicolas Brusson, promised that only after “building a level of familiarity and trust … we [will] introduce an online booking service, where essentially the passenger will pay online, and we manage not only the interaction but also the transaction.”
That trust link with the consumers is as vital as its company growth, and this attitude has led to big wins in terms of membership (3 million and counting). Ironically, it’s here where C2C crashes into a wall, because once the financial changes take place, Bla Bla Car backtracks into B2C mode, because the interruption between provider and consumer means the provider is essentially demoted to vice president during their “transaction.”
So does it just go around in circles? Do all C2Cs end up being B2C? That seems to be the case over at Task Rabbit, the peer-to-peer marketplace for odd jobs. Originally, Leah Busque’s vision was to provide tools and resources to set users’ own schedules, be their own bosses and have a say in how much they want to get paid. So far, so C2C. This year, however, Task Rabbit has made a sharp U-turn on its business model. The price-bidding system was swapped for a flat hourly rate, and individual requests were boxed into generic categories. Killing that sense of individual agency may pass without a hitch in huge offices with polished HR departments, but when rumblings within the workplace have already gone public (Gawker style), it’s clear to see the C2C code doesn’t always bode well with these sorts of adjustments—meaning that things can go pear-shaped, and not everyone ends up being a happy bunny (pun intended).
When I started writing this article, it was with the premise that B2C could help C2C companies better themselves. However, after evaluating the evidence, it soon became clear that distinctions between C2C and B2C were not clear-cut, but totally in flux. C2C ventures are not loose cannons, where people like me can take the reins; no, they are hemmed in by a distinctly B2C approach topped off with a touch of client personalization. So it is at this juncture I ask you: Why must it be B2B or B2C? How about something in between?
Clementyne Chambers – Creative Copywriter, gyro Madrid
I favor using the right side of my brain, and choose gut instinct over rationality every time. Fortunately, that’s a winning combination here at gyro, where I am constantly in pursuit of ideas that make stomachs flip and mouths gasp. I am a textbook copywriter: witty taglines are my weakness.
After studying English Literature at Manchester University in the U.K., I worked for several high-end fashion labels and travel websites in London before worming my way into the gyro Madrid office.
I love dogs and humans in equal measure, and feel most at home when I’m living out of a suitcase; Africa is the next trip on my bucket list.
Follow me @humanorange