The sharing economy connects consumers to people who have products or services to sell, hire or lease via an online platform. It includes services such as Airbnb and Uber.
The sharing economy provides consumers with a number of benefits, including:
- the opportunity to buy from individual traders, as well as big businesses
- the advantage of understanding other consumers’ experiences through the platforms’ ratings and reviews functions
- being able to find products or services that better suit your specific needs or preferences
- potentially cheaper services.
When you buy from someone you connected with through a sharing economy platform, you generally have the same rights as you have when you buy in a store. You have the right to expect:
- truthful and accurate representations, statements or claims
- all the necessary and important information that you need
- transparent disclosure of commercial relationships
- that goods are of acceptable quality, safe, fit for purpose and match their description
- services will be supplied with due care and skill and within a reasonable time.
However, these rights may not apply if you buy from a person who is undertaking a one-off or infrequent transaction. In this case, the seller may not be required to comply with some of the consumer law because they will not be considered to be acting in trade or commerce.
- Know who you’re dealing with. In most cases, you will deal with both the trader providing the product or service and the platform connecting you to them. Make sure you understand the role each party plays in your experience, and that you know who to contact if any problems arise.
- Understand and use reviews and ratings. Sharing economy platforms often display consumer reviews and ratings of their experience with a trader. Make sure you check how the review system works – is it moderated? Are any reviews removed? Are there processes to detect fake reviews? Are reviews listed in the order that they are received? How are ratings calculated?
- Do your research. Some platforms offer lots of information to assist with your purchase – such as cost, photographs, location, reviews, ratings and amenities. Make sure you carefully read all the available information so you can make an informed decision.
- Check you are protected. Some platforms will offer you protection if things go wrong. Make sure you understand what you’re covered for – and what you’re not. If in doubt, ask the platform. Any express protection is in addition to your consumer guarantee rights to a repair, replacement or refund depending on the circumstances.
- Understand pricing. Some platforms may charge higher amounts during times of peak usage (such as surge pricing or seasonal price changes). There may also be penalties for cancelling any service you have ordered. Understand how the pricing works before you sign up to ensure you aren’t caught out.
- Work out the total cost. Don’t just rely on the headline price. There may be additional fees that depend on length of use or stay, such as booking fees or cleaning fees. Make sure you understand the final total cost before committing.
- Know your consumer rights. Remember, you have rights under the Australian Consumer Law. Platforms and traders must ensure they do not engage in misleading or deceptive conduct or make false representations. See: Misleading claims and advertising.
- Watch out for scams. Be aware of how scams operate and how to protect yourself. Don’t arrange payment to a trader outside of the platform, as this is how scammers operate.
If you think you have been misled: