Inside China’s booming sharing economy

A recent study found that more than 55 million Americans will use a “sharing economy” service at least once this year.

The most popular services in the U.S. are the ride-hailing app Uber and home rental booker Airbnb. But nowhere in the world is the sharing economy more popular than in China.

Last year, 600 million Chinese people used a sharing service. Some are asking if it’s too much of a good thing.

Bikes are now big business in China. The country’s two largest bike-share companies, Ofo and Mobike, complete a combined 50 million rides every day, reports CBS News’ Ben Tracy.

Investors recently poured more than a billion dollars into the companies, which explains the sea of bikes on the street and the massive piles of pedals growing in China’s major cities. 

The sharing economy brings convenience, one woman said, but this is too much.

Bikes that are part of one of China’s bike-sharing programs. 

CBS News

Like a friend who doesn’t quite know when to stop, China might be oversharing. You can share a basketball for 15 cents per hour. Need to charge your phone? There’s a power bank share for that. And then came the shared beds, which many called “napping pods” to make it sound slightly less gross. Shortly after they opened, they were closed for not meeting fire code.

The moment the sharing economy seemingly jumped the shark here in China is when an entrepreneur opened his umbrella on a dark day and had what he thought was a bright idea.

The umbrella share launched in Shanghai turned out to be all wet. Some 300,000 umbrellas went missing — probably because people just decided to keep them. 

“I think what is different here is there is just a lot of adoption of new things. People try things all the time. There is almost this idea of what’s new and what’s cool, and people do jump into them,” said Jeffrey Towson, professor of investment at Peking University.

In a country of more than a billion people, it’s a lot of jumping.

basketball-share.jpg

CBS News

China’s sharing economy jumped more than 75 percent last year. It’s expected to grow another 40 percent this year to more than $700 billion and could account for 20 percent of China’s GDP by 2025.

The most successful example is China’s version of Uber, called Didi. It is now the largest ride-sharing company in China.

In just one year it completed 1.4 billion rides. It took Uber six years to reach the one billion mark.

“We don’t know where this is going. But we know we’re at the beginning of something huge,” Towson said.

One issue here seems to be things that are labeled as part of the sharing economy that really aren’t.

The latest would be shared refrigerators. You use your phone, scan a little code on it, open it up and decide what you want to eat.

In the U.S., we might call that a vending machine.

© 2017 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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