In years past, the normal exchange between consumer and business was this: The customer saw a product or service they wanted, they gathered the necessary amount of funds to purchase it, they owned it, and took it home and did whatever they wanted with it.
But now many consumers are content with simply accessing products or services instead of owning them.
Whether it’s streaming music instead of downloading it, periodically renting a luxury vehicle instead of saving up for it, or renting a newly released laptop instead of buying it, there's a new buying option for those who don't really need to own a particular product.
ConsumerAffairs recently discussed the growing popularity of peer-to-peer sharing and thriving businesses like Zipcar that allow the consumer to not only use a product for a short period of time, but also to share it with other consumers. The whole concept has generally come to be known as access economy.
Not only are these companies designing their business models around today's difficult financial times, they are also directly responding to consumers' new interest of using a product, returning it, then coming back only when they need the product again.
Not just cars
This comes in especially handy in today's world of quickly-released electronic products that seem to become old and obsolete just weeks after buying them. Some consumers have chosen not to own a device, but instead choose to rent it, and switch gadgets upon each upgrade.
It's working the same way in music too. In the early thousands CD sales accounted for 95 percent of music industry sales according to industry reports. Soon after digital downloads grew in popularity, causing CD sales to all but plummet. Now downloading is on a downward slope, as consumers increasingly prefer accessing the music through streaming rather than downloading it.
According to a report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, 13.4 million consumers used music streaming services around the globe in 2011, compared to 8.2 million in 2010. Rhapsody said it was the first music streaming company to have over one million customers, which shows people are choosing to access songs instead of downloading and owning them.
Tablet Rentals It's really not that strange for electronics to be rented instead of bought, as this is normal for companies that may need a specific device for a period of time, like for a conference or seminar. But more and more everyday consumers are using rental companies for their laptops, smartphones and tablets.
Rentacomputer.com is a major player in the device renting business and tablets are among its new products for temporary use. Customers can go on the company's website, then select the date they want their tablet delivered and picked up from their home.
Once the user hits the submit request button, one of the company's reps will contact them with a rental price quote. Obviously the newer the tablet and longer the rental the more expensive it will be.
Many people are turning to companies like this around the world, if for no other reason than to keep up with the newest technology without having to shell out inordinate amounts of money each time a new device is released.
The downside with renting electronics is one has to be hyper careful, as costs to replace or repair the device could outweigh the cost of simply buying one. Also an extended amount of rental time could end up costing more than just buying a gadget outright.
There's also a privacy issue. You need to be sure to delete all of your personal data, especially user ids and passwords.
Not just music
And the concept of periodic ownership isn't just confined to the realm of music.
Companies like Adorn allow consumers to rent diamonds and high-end jewelry. What was a common practice for famous Hollywood types on Oscar night is now a normal practice for common folks who decided breaking the bank for a fancy piece of jewelry doesn't make much sense.
So when it comes to this growing trend of renting or sharing over buying, what are some of the most unique companies that offer periodic ownership? ConsumerAffairs doesn't endorse any of these companies, but it’s good for consumers to be aware of just how buying trends are shifting today.
Jean Rentals Would you ever think of renting a pair of jeans? Apparently, many would and companies like Used Blue Jeans are online proof. Here's how it works: Consumers select a pair of jeans from the online store, then enter in just how long they'd like to rent the jeans for. The customer has to pay a deposit, which varies depending on the type of jean, and they get that deposit back once the pants are returned.
Used Blue Jeans caters to those people who find $400 jeans to be a normal thing, but no longer want to keep spending that type of money, especially when newly designed pairs are released very frequently.
The company advises customers not to wash the jeans themselves, as it claims to have a special dry cleaning technique that washes the pants and preserves their newness. The company caters to both men and women clientele pretty much in equal proportion, according to customer reviews.
Wedding Dress Rentals If there's anything one would imagine a person wants to own and keep forever it's a wedding dress. In many families wedding dresses are passed down from mother to daughter for generations, and many brides keep them in their closet or storage in case they want a quick nostalgic peek of their wedding day.
Companies like Rent a Bridal Gown in Modesto, Calif., and Unforgettable Rentals in Tennessee, cater to the bride that may not have a lower amount of sentimentality, but may just be a little more frugal and unwilling to shell out big bucks for one day, albeit a very special day.
Rent a Bridal Gown claims to have the most updated wedding dresses, and practically guarantees that the dress you badly desire will be there, as long as you give proper notice of your wedding date. Unforgettable Rentals not only rents wedding gowns, but also rents designer dresses that women can rent, impress party goers with, then return.
Of course the downside of renting such gowns, jeans or other garments instead of buying them is risking getting just the right fit, along with the obvious sanitary issues. Many of these companies claim to have absolutely no problems in the cleanliness area, but what else are they going to say?
Designer Shoe Rental This type of rental falls into the category of the jean rental, as it takes someone with a strong tolerance for used items to really use these kinds of services.
Take the company Cinderella Me for example. The UK based shoe rental company focuses on ridiculously expensive shoes for the average Joe, or rather Joann since the company solely caters to women. You have to like the company's phrase on its website: We ship to you then you shine at the ball."
Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo and other shoes that Carrie from "Sex And The City" would probably wear can be rented and shared like a good Friday night Netflix movie. To rent a varied collection of around 200 shoes, customers first have to become a member of the site and pay a £9.95 membership fee, which is a little over $15.
U.S. companies like Montana Rader also rent high-end shoe wear, as the company is usually known for renting shoes to the fashion industry for photo shoots, but many everyday consumers are getting into the shoe rental game to save money.
Handbag Rental Purse rental companies were among some of the first unique rental online companies of the bunch, and as a result there are hosts of these companies in business today. Rent Me a Handbag, Handbagenvy.com, and Handbagborrowers.com are just some of the companies that consumers are using in growing numbers every day.
These types of companies have become so popular that many of them have waiting lists for purses consumers want.
Just like computer gadgets, many rent handbags in fear that they'll quickly go out of style, leaving the consumer with an outdated bag and empty bank account. Although one doesn't have to be a member, a lot of the sites offer a discounted rental price with a membership pass.
Though many purse rental companies are pretty strict on return times for the bags, Hand Bag Borrowers uses the Netflix model and allow customers to keep purses as long as they choose.
Renting products instead of purchasing them will obviously not work for everyone, and for the ones that it does work for, an extreme amount of research is needed to determine just which rental companies have the best reputation and are reviewed the highest.
There's not much talk about these rental companies in our ConsumerAffairs Reviews & Complaints section, but some are sure to follow as this new buying trend grows, especially among the young and financially unestablished.
However, one has be extra aware they have far less control over the quality of a product once its rented instead of bought, and your financial liability if something happens to the item will be much greater.
Be sure to way out all the pros and cons before using a rental company, and really decide if simply not buying what you want is more worth the money in the long run.