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Fearless Idea 11: Learn to Share

Mar 11, 2017
World Class Faculty & Research

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SMITH BRAIN TRUST — The car you rented as part of your auto-share club reeked of cigarette smoke and a cross-country roadtrip worth of crumbs littered the seats and floor. There was a slight and mysterious stickiness on the gear shift. It made you wonder: Why are some vehicles in the car-sharing club kept meticulously tidy while others arrive icky?

As the sharing economy grows, with prominent players such as Zipcar, Airbnb, Uber and Rent the Runway, heads of companies are wondering the same thing. And they're wondering how they can encourage customers to be better custodians of the goods they share. In new research, Rosellina Ferraro, associate professor of marketing at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, seeks to answer those questions. Her study, which focuses on car-sharing, asks: Is customer misbehavior contagious, and what can companies do to encourage customers to be their better selves?

Working with co-authors from Germany, Finland and the United Kingdom, Ferraro conducted a series of lab and field experiments, and found that signs of misbehavior from previous users, with candy wrappers and other litter left behind, encouraged others to behave in a similar manner. However, in a field test that created a social community among users, drivers took better care of the vehicles, and even tidied the messes left behind by previous drivers.

The studies offer some managerial lessons for companies across the burgeoning sector. The global sharing economy market is expected to grow to $335 billion by 2025, from $26 billion in 2013. "People are predicting, with the automobile, that someday everyone will be driving like this. And sharing computers, sharing of all kinds of things,” Ferraro says. “It will be interesting to see how it evolves."

Ferraro’s research was conducted with co-authors Tobias Schaefers of Germany’s Technical University of Dortmund, Kristina Wittkowski of Finland’s Aalto University, and Sabine Benoit of England’s University of Surrey. It was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Service Research. 

Rosellina Ferraro is an associate professor of marketing and the associate chair of the marketing department at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She received her PhD in marketing from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in 2005. 

Research interests: Consumer behavior, specifically the effects of social influence on choice and preference and the effects of external threats on consumption behavior. 

Selected accomplishments: Finalist for the John D. C. Little Award 2013; Marketing Science Institute (MSI) Young Scholar 2011; and Honorable Mention for the Journal of Consumer Research 2009 Ferber Award. Her work has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, and Journal of Marketing. She has presented research papers at the leading consumer research conferences. And she serves on the editorial review boards of four journals.

About this series: The Smith School faculty is celebrating Women’s History Month 2017 in partnership with ADVANCE, an initiative to transform the University of Maryland by investing in a culture of inclusive excellence. Daily faculty spotlights support activities from the school’s Office of Diversity Initiatives, culminating with the sixth annual Women Leading Women forum on March 30, 2017.

Other fearless ideas from: Rajshree Agarwal  |  Ritu Agarwal  |  Leigh Anenson  |  Kathryn M. Bartol  |  Christine Beckman  |  Margrét Bjarnadóttir  |  M. Cecilia Bustamante  |  Rellie Derfler-Rozin  |  Waverly Ding  |  Wedad J. Elmaghraby  |  Rosellina Ferraro  |  Rebecca Hann  |  Amna Kirmani  |  Hanna Lee  |  Hui Liao  |  Wendy W. Moe  |  Courtney Paulson  |  Louiqa Raschid  |  Rebecca Ratner  |  Rachelle Sampson  |  Debra L. Shapiro  |  Cynthia Kay Stevens  |  M. Susan Taylor  |  Vijaya Venkataramani  |  Janet Wagner  |  Yajin Wang  |  Yajun Wang  |  Liu Yang  |  Jie Zhang  |  Lingling Zhang  |  PhD Candidates

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business 

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty masters, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.