A sharing economy beyond the consumer: An exploration of micro-retail sharing enterprises
With today’s changes in a highly competitive retail environment and increased emphasis on the sharing economy in consumption patterns, there is a need to understand alternative methods used for independent retailer viability. Using new institutionalism, business resource sharing, and retail innovation literature, the study explored the retail activities micro-retail sharing enterprises (MRSEs) engage in, how and why business owners form these businesses, whether MRSEs are a new retail format, and their potential role in sustainable business opportunities. In an exploratory, ethnomethodological approach, I triangulated data sources and collection methods across five MRSEs, each in a different region of the United States, by conducting interviews with MRSE participants, in-store observations, and website text analysis. Using analytic induction, I first detailed the operations and retail mixes of MRSEs, the majority of which used a membership model for vendors to join and sell their products. Thematic analysis then revealed two main themes: the evolutionary path leading to their formation and activities, and the role they play as business incubators for local entrepreneurs. By minimizing financial risk MRSEs can then provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurs to test products, build a customer base, learn new business skills, and gain a support network and locational advantage. The findings provide insight into what I argue is a new retail format, as well as the MRSE model’s methods of viability for independent retailers and entrepreneurs, and an extension of the concepts of business incubators and a business-to-business sharing economy.