There's a new player in town for home installations, repairs and renovations: Amazon.
Wednesday morning, the Web shopping giant formally announced that it has expanded Amazon Home Services to 15 metros across the United States, with Philadelphia as one of the new additions.
While no help if you need ghostbusting, Amazon's service, launched elsewhere in March, already claims access to 900 services, contracted through local, regional and national companies, to handle anything from fixing a dripping faucet to tuning up a computer.
Why go with them instead of an Angie's List or Yelp? Amazon conducts a serious investigation of potential partners, said Bill Lutz, owner of Gen3Electric, a South Philadelphia-based contractor that endured the vetting process. "There's a lot of insurance work involved, lots of paperwork. And every technician we employ has had to go through a background check."
All that is important for Amazon, as it is guaranteeing all services and hoping to lower stress from the home-invasive process. Nothing is charged to your on-file credit card until the work is done.
On the Amazon site, a search for services brings up screen pages akin to those for hard goods. The least costly provider in your zip code is most prominently displayed at the top of the page, a few alternatives are listed below.
Lutz hears that "they're limiting the participation to three or four companies in a particular category, per market," which he hopes will "reduce the race to the bottom" - low-ball pricing - "where professional standards go down. That's a problem Angie's List had to deal with."
And holding true to Amazon's opinionated audience, user reviews are readily available.
For a test, we asked what it would cost to install a ceiling fan. Had to specify "new installation" or "replace existing fan," as the former requires much more wiring. Cermanski Electrical Heating and Contracting in Lafayette Hill came up with a low bid of $350 for a new install, followed by the local franchise of Mr. Electric at $369, then Gen3Electric, Inc. at $375.32. Still, you might be prone to go with the well-established Gen3Electric, as it was the only one with customer reviews: two "five star" ratings.
"We actually did a soft launch on the site a few weeks ago," Lutz said. "We've already gotten four jobs out of it, though we haven't been paid, as yet."
Clearly, some people will visit Amazon Home Service just to grasp what a job should cost, even if they then let a local handyman tackle it. Or summon up the courage to do it themselves.
Assembling a two-burner gas grill might seem tedious, but the pain subsides after seeing that Go Configure Inc. wants $120 for the job, Assembly 360 is asking $150, and the Home Hero demands $200.
Lutz said if a customer calls him directly after seeing his quote on Amazon, the price "will be pretty much the same." Yes, he's giving Amazon a cut, "but I view it as good advertising, the price you pay for a lead that will hopefully turn into a long-term relationship."
Approved providers enjoy two ways to get clients from Amazon. Besides Home Services, Amazon is now suggesting using its partner installers when you're shopping on the site for products. "We make them a full-service operation," Lutz said. "Buy a flat-panel TV here and we'll hook you up with an installer to hang it on the wall."
Some obvious services were unavailable at Amazon's official Philly launch for Home Services on Wednesday. I couldn't find a mover, party caterer, or yoga instructor. Not even a "goat grazer," a billy goat for hire to ecologically trim your field. But he's "coming soon," Amazon claimed.