This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.
When I saw the sign, I was confused,
“Welcome to Ray’s Liquor Store” was flickering in red neon lights above the door. This didn’t seem right.
I remembered feeling this same sense of confusion years ago on a trip to Chicago when a friend told me about this new “Uber thing” that I could use to get from my hotel to the airport.
“It’s really cool,” he said. “You just tell the app where you are and where you want to go, and a random stranger will pull up and tell you to get in his car.” It was the early days of the “sharing economy” when the concept of ride-sharing apps and Airbnb were just getting off the ground and stranger-danger was embedded in our collective consciousness.
“No way,” I thought. I decided to just call a cab.
Yet here I was, hundreds of Uber rides later, about to drop off my luggage at random old liquor store in California. The guy behind the corner seemed nice, but surely, I was at the wrong place.
I was in San Diego and needed a place to store my suitcase and laptop bag for a few hours between meetings. I had come across an app called Bounce that partners with local businesses that will store your luggage for a few hours for a small fee.
The process is easy. You simply search for a location, show up with the bags you need to store, drop them off, and be on your way. “Why not?” I figured. If I am OK with getting into a car with a total stranger, I should be fine leaving my suitcase at a retail store.
But as I stared at the sign, I began to get cold feet.
I had expected the app to lead to some form for a public locker or maybe a Target that had a secure storage area. Ray’s Liquor had neither. For $10, they’d keep my suitcase behind the counter with the rum and vodka until I returned to pick it up.
Trust, or the lack thereof, is central to every transaction. It’s what our entire economy is based on. Whether it’s buying a sandwich or dropping off your luggage at a corner store, if a buyer and seller don’t trust each other, the transaction is dead.
The growth of the sharing economy, where we buy and sell goods and services in a non-traditional way, has been remarkable because in a relatively short period of time, companies like Lyft, Uber, and Airbnb have been able to convince us to trust each other in a new way.
How have they done this? How in the world could I possibly trust a small liquor store with my luggage?
It started with marketing and branding. The fact that I found the Bounce luggage storage app on the first page of Google made me feel that it was legit. And the branding on their website looked clean and professional.
From there, the technology took over.
GPS made it easy to find the closest storage location, and even though it led me to a place I wasn’t expecting, just like Uber and Lyft it was accurate. And once I walked in the door the app allowed me to pay with PayPal (a service that I already trusted.)
And finally, the service was low cost, making it tempting even though it was new.
So, in the end, while my trust level wasn’t 100%, it was enough to prompt me to hand my bag over the counter and hope for the best.
A few hours later, when I returned, I was greeted by Ray himself. He happily handed me my luggage and offered me a discount on a bottle of wine. I thanked him and suggested he change the name of his store to Ray’s Liquor and Luggage Storage. He laughed as I left to call an Uber.