Just months after Amazon announced its entry into the home services market, another Internet heavyweight has joined the fray. Google officially launched its own home services offering, which aims to use the search giant’s data to pair homeowners with contractors.
Google’s service is part of the AdWords Express advertising app. Contractors must pay to be ranked among the first search results and must also pass a Google screening based on appropriate licenses and customer reviews. The ads include a photo, location, phone number and callouts such as “24/7 Services” or “Guaranteed Repairs,” according to online reports.
Initially, Google’s service will only be available in San Francisco, and is limited to plumbers, handymen, locksmiths and housecleaners. But like Amazon, Google likely aims to roll the service out nationwide to a wider contractor base. To that end, it already owns a potentially formidable partner: Thumbtack, a national online service that connects contractors and other professionals with consumers. For it’s part, Amazon is partnering with a similar service called TaskRabbit.
Google, Amazon and their respective partners join an already crowded list of online services that seek to connect contractors with homeowners in various ways. That list includes HomeAdvisor, Porch, Angie’s List, Yelp and Houzz.
Some see Google’s entry into this field as a healthy evolution for the often fragmented contracting industry. “NRCA believes that any measure to help homeowners choose professional contractors is helpful, and so we welcome Google into the contractor-referral space,” said Bill Good, CEO of the National Roofing Contractors Association.
But while competition can be good, it’s too early to tell how Google will impact the industry — and whether that impact will be positive, says Robert Criner president of Criner Remodeling. He adds that the large group of lead generation services now available to contractors has created a new problem. “We’re in a wait and see moment, and it’s really confusing to the remodeler,” he said.
For example, Criner said he currently spends a lot of time and money updating his photos on Houzz and optimizing his presence there. He can’t really imagine spending more time to investigate other services, and pay for their leads. “I’m sure contractors can’t afford to all these things,” he said. “You really need to chose the ones you want to marry up with.”
At the very least, Criner recommends that contractors make sure services such as Google have their correct name, phone number and address. Providing such data points usually don’t cost anything and are crucial to customers finding your company.
But the effects of Google and Amazon could be more far reaching than just giving contractors another service to consider, warns Chris Terrill, CEO of HomeAdvisor a competitor to both new services.
Terrill says he’s not surprised Google has leapt into the home services market because it’s one of the last local service spaces to make the digital conversion. But he said both Internet giants threaten to put contractors in a race to the bottom on pricing. “The reality is that if you’re a service provider, you don’t want to be in a commoditized space,” he said. “For example, if I’m a high quality plumber, do a really want to compete in that world?”
And both Criner and Terrill question Google’s ability — along with Amazon — to truly vet contractors in a meaningful way. “I think you can vet to see if people are licensed and insured,” said Criner, who’s also National Association of Home Builders Remodelers chair. “But I challenge anyone to measure quality without looking at their work.”
Terrill says the real test will be to see if the new entrants continue their vetting process as they ramp up service. “To get people in quickly, you have to make a lot of calls,” he said. “Are they going to be willing to stick with it and have a slow build over time? Or will they cut corners and reduce screening so they can get guys faster and let people in who are less desirable?”
But rather than worrying too much about what Google or Amazon do, Criner says contractors would be better served ensuring they’re offering customers topnotch customer service. “Ultimately, you’re going to take a neighbor’s word of mouth over what Google says about a contractor you’ve never met,” he said.