The recent launch of the Zilok website in the U.K. (May 2008) reaffirmed to me that the way we have been consuming for many years in Western Society is changing. The raison d’être for Zilok goes something like this:

“Why own a ladder or a drill when you only need to use it once a year and you can rent one from a neighbour for a very low cost?”

I think of my parents’ generation, and a combination of increased disposable income (relative to their parents), significant marketing and the growth of retail parks meant that most of their generation have garages full of items that rarely see the light of day. However, our world is changing. In recent years there has also been an increase in single-person households, as well as a growth in apartments and flats with less square footage for storage than the houses of our parents. It’s not simply a case of why buy a ladder to use once a year but also a case of if I buy it, where do I store it?

The notion of community has also changed and urban dwellers are more likely to access an online community than knock next door to borrow something.

The Internet has also served to reduce transaction costs across the board. It is now easier to search for a wide range of (long tail and /or obscure) products and services from a PC. The days of driving around calling into different stores are well gone. On the supplier side it has removed the need for providers to have a physical presence in the various markets that they serve, or to carry a lot of stock in these stores.

Finally there is a greater environmental awareness amongst consumers and an increasing amount of purchase decisions now include a weighting for the environmental impact of their purchases. Websites such as The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard seek to promote sustainable production and indeed consumption –again seeking to promote shared ownership, product reuse and seeking to educate people about the impacts of their purchase decisions.

As a result of these changes, there is a raft of emerging offerings that blur the lines between products and services as we have traditionally known them. The message for entrepreneurs is that environmental changes and changes in consumer behaviour create business opportunities. The next ‘big idea’ is more likely to be a simple tweak to an existing product or service rather than a ‘mad professor idea’ concocted in a garden shed! Read More..

Alan Gleeson

Palo Alto Software (U.K.)

Alan GleesonAlan Gleeson

Alan Gleeson was the general manager of Palo Alto Software UK, makers of Business Plan Pro and LivePlan. Alan has an MBA from Oxford and an MSc from University College, Cork, Ireland. You can follow Alan on Twitter @alangleeson.