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Psychological Ownership can replace Material Ownership

New Study on the Sharing Economy

"Actually, I don't need my own car. If I want to go somewhere, I log in, choose a suitable vehicle and drive off. I only pay for what I use and I don't have to worry about anything else." At least if you live in a big city you might have heard such an explanation before. With the rise of the Sharing Economy, the use of "access-based services" - carsharing is a prominent example - is almost taken for granted in certain areas today. On the other hand, the example above shows that users still compare such services with material possessions as the standard mode of consumption.

Research has shown that consumers assign great importance to their material possessions and suggest that this constitutes a critical barrier to ABS use. ABS are characterized precisely by the fact that consumers do not physically own the material goods they use, but only temporarily access them through services.

In a recent study, Martin P. Fritze, André Marchand (Marketing Area of the WiSo Faculty), Andreas B. Eisingerich (Imperial College London) and Martin Benkenstein (University of Rostock) have shown that it can be more rewarding for companies in the "Sharing Economy" to leverage the psychological power of ownership feelings, rather than try to fight the lack of actual ownership in access-based consumption contexts, e.g. through communication campaigns that emphasize low-cost benefits. That is, managers of ABS should not seek to reduce consumers’ desire for ownership as a mental state but rather trade upon it and shift consumers’ ownership feelings toward ABS offerings. The key takeaway is that firms that offer ABS should increase customers’ service psychological ownership, which acts as a psychological substitute for material ownership and increases access-based service use.

With four studies that use cross-sectional, longitudinal and experimental data, as well as combined self-reports with usage data, the researchers around the two WiSo professors have succeeded in demonstrating this effect. The study reveals ways, how managers can encourage such psychological ownership feelings for ABS in order to increase customers’ engagement with their offering and help customers to detach from their material possessions. Because access-based consumption promises more sustainable forms of consumption due to a communal and more efficient use of resources, public policy makers should also be interested in these findings in order to better promote ABS adoption.