They’re already buying pumps and heaters online. Homeowners now may be able to hire pool pros through Amazon, as well. The website’s new Home Services Marketplace, which launched earlier this month, is a homeowner’s one-stop shop for local contractors. The e-commerce giant claims that consumers can hire skilled workers from across 700 service categories. Among them: plumbing, painting, house cleaning, lawn care and car maintenance. While it appears pool-specific trades are not yet included, peripheral services are. These include pergola and fire pit assembly.
So it’s quite possible a pool professional could sign up to make his or her services available on Amazon — if not now, then sometime in the future.
Here’s how the program works: Homeowners input their ZIP code and select from a list of services. The website generates a list of contractors from which to choose. Once the job is complete, the homeowner pays Amazon, which then pays the contractor.
According to the website, its “handpicked pros” are only the cream of the crop. Each has been vetted through a five-point business background check. Those who aren’t licensed or insured don’t make the cut.
While many in the industry accuse the online retailer of cutting into their profits, some are willing to give Amazon credit for weeding out unlicensed contractors.
“If they’re only going to use licensed contractors, then I’m all for it,” said Kurt Schuster, owner of Badger Pool Services, LLC, in Scottsdale, Ariz. “That’s going to eliminate 80 percent of the pool guys out there.”
It’s unknown how, or if, warranties would be affected on products bought online and installed by qualified Amazon contractors. Manufacturers such as The Big Three recently began offering extended warranties on equipment installed by certified dealers in an effort to nudge consumers toward pool supply stores and discourage them from installing online purchases themselves.
What Amazon is doing is nothing new. Lead generation services such as Service Magic, now HomeAdvisor.com, predate the Internet. However the web has given rise to a variety of home service brokers, Angie’s List being the current heavyweight. Similar services also include Thumbtack and Task Rabbit, among other startups. They all work more or less the same: Subscribers receive a notice when a homeowner in their area requests a specific task. A bidding war ensues.
“I’ve spent money on all of them,” said Gary Lindsey, owner of Ace Pool Services in North Houston. He’s been less than pleased with the quality of customers these leads generate. They’re mostly “bargain bin” shoppers looking for a quick fix, he said.
And yet he said he might be willing to give Amazon a shot.
“I may eventually try it,” Lindsey said, “especially if that particular buying crowd is a little more affluent.”
But one aspect of Amazon’s Home Services platform is a deal breaker for many service technicians: It takes 10- to 20 percent of the transaction.
“That’s a big chunk,” said Johnny Jaicaman, owner of JJ Pool Repairs, serving suburban Los Angeles.
He’s satisfied with Thumbtack, which charges professionals upfront for a certain number of credits. When a homeowner opens his bid online, it costs a set amount of the pre-paid credits. Jaicaman has used the service for a year and has netted three routine maintenance customers through it.
But he suspects he’ll run into the same frustrations with Amazon as he does with Thumbtack. Many homeowners do not accurately report the size of their pools or the conditions they’re in. He can win a contract online to clean a 10,000-gallon pool that’s supposedly algae-free, only to discover a 20,000-gallon swamp at the site.
“You don’t want to lose a customer,” Jaicaman said, “but you have to increase your cost. Then you look like the bad guy.”
What separates Amazon’s service from Angie’s List and the rest is a mechanism that generates a list of contractors who are qualified to install the specific product or equipment a person is purchasing. For example, if a homeowner in Orlando, Fla. is browsing pool pumps, Amazon will provide a list of preferred local vendors who can install it.
This at least gives local dealers an opportunity to make money on the installation and warranty service on the pump, but only if they have the competitive advantage of being an Amazon “handpicked pro.”
Those who aren’t could lose even more market share to the online retailer.
Michael Dennis, CEO of X-Pools, serving Scottsdale, Ariz., typically doesn’t install equipment purchased online and doesn’t expect to change that policy, even if Amazon could send customers his way.
“I’m not a fan of Amazon,” said Dennis, president of the Arizona Pool Dealers Association. “It’s putting pricing pressure on all of us.”