AUSTRALIANS can now give each other the gift of time, literally.
Jobs platform Airtasker has taken the sharing economy mainstream in a major new tie-up with Coles, Woolworths and Big W to sell gift cards offering credit for nearly any task, from cleaning and handyman work to late-night food deliveries.
The cards, which will be sold at more than 2300 outlets around the country, will retail for $50. A typical $50 job on the platform, which operates on a peer-reviewed marketplace model, would be mowing a lawn, cleaning a one-bedroom apartment, hanging paintings in a house, or picking up and delivering a fridge.
For under $100, a user will generally clean a two-bedroom apartment, assemble a piece of furniture, mount a TV to a wall, reorganise a garage, or tidy up the garden. For around $150, a user might clean a three-bedroom house, provide a van and help someone move, or assemble three large items of Ikea furniture.
More than 360,000 users offer their services on the Airtasker, which claims to have added 170,000 new members since the start of the year.
Lisa Treen is one of a growing number of time-poor Australians turning to sites like Airtasker and Freelancer and to outsource parts of their lives.
“The reality is we’re a professional couple who are very time-poor,” she said.
“Our leisure time is really precious to us. We look at each other and say, do you want to spend hours on doing this job, or pay someone $100?”
The couple spend several hundred dollars a month on everything from cleaning and weeding the backyard to cleaning out the fridge. “We use it for general duties we don’t have the time or inclination to do,” she said.
“The best ever was getting someone to come to our house, pick up our dog and take him to her house and dog sit him while we had a party — Scooter the dalmatian steals food.”
According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data, Australians typically spend between 10 to 20 hours a week on unpaid domestic tasks.
Airtasker founder Tim Fung said five years ago, it would have been unheard of to buy an iTunes card to download songs, whereas today buying a CD is a novelty. He hopes the Airtasker gift cards will follow a similar pattern, where gifting people time will become normal.
“Companies have been outsourcing tasks for decades to free up resources and focus their staff on key roles,” he said. “Technology has made this trend affordable for working families.
“You can get more done by leveraging this outsourcing trend. Focus on your passions, and let someone else assemble your Ikea furniture or do the gardening.”
Ms Treen, who works in finance, runs an online pet products company with her husband Paul, who works in IT at a bank, so outsourcing their lives also gives them more time to fill orders and respond to customer queries.
She prefers using the online system over just opening up the Yellow Pages because she can see past reviews of people bidding for the work. “It gives me a good idea of whether they’re worthwhile to take on,” she said.
“It’s important that people are rated, and as a user I’m rated as well — was I nice to them, did I pay them promptly, was the job explained in the best possible detail?”
Rachel Botsman, author of What’s Mine is Yours and expert on the collaborative economy, has argued this new kind of online trust, where everyone is rated and accountable for their behaviour, is the most significant development to come out of the sharing economy.
“A really big problem for many people is broken trust — they just don’t trust conventional banks insurance companies,” she told news.com.au.
“If you look at the growth of crowd-funding, peer-to-peer lending, overseas transfer companies like [TransferWise or CurrencyFair], they’re built on these highly transparent systems. It’s about having nothing to hide.”
Ms Botsman said big companies relied on having trusted brands to foster loyalty. “That kind of trust is declining and being undermined, and in its place we’re seeing a social, peer-to-peer driven trust rise up. Trust no longer lies in big institutions but with individuals.”
But what about people who don’t want to be judged, rated and reviewed every time they stay in an Airbnb or catch an Uber? “It’s a really good question,” she said. “The tricky thing is these systems depend on not having an opt-out function. There has to be total accountability.”
She argues people might have to just become more forgiving. “That’s what scares me about these systems. They’re such public reflections of our behaviour in often private context. You shouldn’t be judged on just one review — it should be the aggregate picture.”