Once seen as a sustainable way to balance economic opportunities with the sharing of resources, the sharing economy in recent years has morphed in an ugly way into what is often called the “gig economy.” Even presidential candidates have weighed in on the concerns of workers struggling to find decent paying jobs — and renting their rooms on Airbnb or shuffling people around town in their car to make up for that gap. In fact, Silicon Valley gadflies excited over a new sharing economy concept are quick to label a new idea “the Uber of” (insert service here: check out what happens on a search engine, e.g. private jets, shipping, food, weed … ).
Speaking of Uber, this darling of Wall Street, and target for what many see as what can go wrong in our economy, has fomented an ongoing discussion across many news sites, including here at TriplePundit. The car-sharing site has been pilloried relentlessly for how its workers have been treated, and has been banned from some municipalities in the U.S. Uber has also found itself tied up in litigation abroad, due to questions over liability and the legality of its services. Over the past several months, the company has tried to soften its hard-nosed image, but most of those efforts have fallen flat as the company is still often viewed as the sharing economy wolf of Wall Street.
Is this a victory for values-driven business like Lyft?
Last week Starbucks announced an agreement with Lyft that could prove beneficial for Lyft drivers, Lyft riders and even for some Starbucks employees.
All Lyft drivers can jump to Gold Level status in the Starbucks program (which means (hooray!) a free goodie every 12 purchases and refills), and both drivers and riders can earn Starbucks loyalty points during their drive. As the partnership develops Starbucks hopes to extend discounted Lyft rides to employees to make their commutes easier. Which should be well-appreciated.
Anyone who has to be at a Starbucks at 4:30 a.m. for that dreaded morning shift can tell you most cities have meager public transportation options at that hour. This additional transport option should make Starbucks employees’ commutes just a bit easier.
This partnership could also boost what advocates of the sharing economy saw as a benefit when these services first emerged several years ago: a new way to build relationships. That’s sorely needed in an age when most of us have our necks bent downwards and noses stuck in our smartphone screens.
For Starbucks, this move is a way to extend the brand with minimal investment—and in what some see as the creepy side of Starbucks’ agenda, the deal with Lyft extends Starbucks’ reach as the company wants its stores, and now its service, as that “third place” between home and the office.
While coffee snobs may roll their eyes at the latest Frappuccino, Starbucks provides decent wages — and tips — for countless students, those between jobs and single parents. The company has long spent more on health insurance than coffee. And while the program is relatively small, students do have the opportunity to earn a college degree on the company dime. Starbucks also doesn’t shy away from social issues, even if it makes its own baristas uncomfortable.
One could argue, therefore, that this joining of forces with Lyft over Uber sends a signal to the sharing economy marketplace. After all, Lyft has often been the foil of Uber’ shenanigans, and both companies have been spurred into action to clean up their acts and make their drivers happier. But with Uber’s reputation largely in tatters, and the enthusiasm over the sharing economy dissipating as yet another profit scheme for the big guys, Lyft has scored a huge win with its alliance with Starbucks.
Image credit: Starbucks