Me or We? The Effects of Independent and Interdependent Self-Construal on Access-Based Service Use
Sharing economy business models facilitate joint use of resources among customers. Most prominently, access-based services (ABS) have attracted increasing attention as an alternative to the consumption of material products through sole ownership. These services are only feasible if sufficient utilization of the shared goods is achieved. To drive usage, access-based service providers frequently promote the communal aspect of jointly sharing goods. However, the extant literature offers ambiguous findings about the role of the community for individuals’ behavior in the sharing economy. On the one hand, previous studies suggest that access-based service customers do not form any kind of community feeling (Bardhi and Eckhardt 2012). On the other hand, fostering a sense of community among sharing customers can have beneficial effects (Schaefers et al. 2016). Based on self-construal theory, and integrating the concepts of community identification and psychological ownership, we therefore examine how priming customers towards a more community-oriented or a more individual-oriented mindset influences their usage behavior.
In cooperation with a German car sharing company, we conducted a large-scale field experiment that combined experimental stimuli distributed via the company’s regular newsletters, two customer surveys (pre and post manipulation) and the observation of customers’ usage behavior across two time periods (2 months prior to survey 1 and 2 months after survey 2). Specifically, participants were randomly assigned to one of two experimental groups (independent vs. interdependent self-construal) or a control group and received a pretested newsletter that used visual and text elements (e.g., “Mobility for you…” vs. “Mobility for all...”) for the manipulation. The analyzed data comprises survey responses and behavioral observations from 2,113 customers which we analyzed using repeated-measures analyses of variance and structural equation modeling with lagged covariates.
The results reveal that, compared to an interdependent prime and the control group, an independent prime increases usage intensity (i.e., average length of bookings), but does not affect usage frequency (i.e., average number of bookings). On an attitudinal level, the independent prime increased participants’ psychological ownership of the used vehicles, as expected, which mediated the effect on usage intensity and indirectly exerted an effect on usage frequency. In contrast to our assumptions, the interdependent prime did not increase participants’ community identification, while the independent prime did have such an effect. However, community identification was unrelated to actual usage.
Our findings provide, to the best of our knowledge, a first test of the relevance of independent and interdependent self-construals for access-based service usage. Despite the idea of the sharing economy enabling community identification, our results suggest that the commercial success of such services depends on individuals’ self-interest.
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