A few months ago I was “hand selected” (as the email led me to believe) by Amazon Home Services to provide photography services on Amazon.com in the Chicago area. A new feature Amazon.com has been rolling out in some markets is the ability to buy not just products online, but services as well. If you go to the Amazon Home Services page you’ll see that you can now order services like plumbing, electrical, painting, wall-mounting your TV, assembling your new fat-busting elliptical machine, and more.
At first blush the concept sounds pretty rad: I, the consumer, have better things to do than spend time and effort researching for a good plumber so I’m just going to “order” one on Amazon.com by selecting the service I want and a professional will come to my door, and the prices even look lower than I thought they’d be. To the contractors doing the work the concept also sounds pretty reasonable: people find you through a big website like Amazon and book you for work without having to do much marketing to get them and Amazon just takes a percentage of their earnings from that booking. But if you dig a little deeper, it doesn’t quite work in practice. Without proper research you can end up with a very unskilled service provider, and without communicating directly with the service provider before the job and using an arguably unmanned website as a middleman there can and will be miscommunication on the work and the price.
Let me for a moment compare this to Thumbtack.com which has been around for a few years and even advertising on television now (you know exactly when the commercials are airing because you can hear me screaming “KHHHAAAAANN” at the top of my lungs). I was also “hand selected” for Thumbtack when it was in its beta version and quickly ruled it out as a reputable and reliable way to connect with my customers. I tried it a couple times and wasted a little money connecting to bargain-hunting clients who were looking at price instead of quality, and competing with countless newbie photographers undercutting each other (and themselves) just for the gratification on being picked for the job. Again, this concept from afar sounds dandy: service providers pay for “tokens” or “credits” or whatever they call them, clients post the work they want done, providers use the credits to bid on the job, and the client chooses the bid they like without paying a dime to get connected to the provider.
But the whole thing breaks down and crumbles for the exact reasons reviewers of the service from both the client and the provider side have laid out in their experiences. There are stories of unskilled and unlicensed providers advertising their services, miscommunication on cost, clients not paying providers, providers not showing up or doing the work, and on and on… My favorite stories are of the client meeting with a caterer for tasting foods for a wedding and the “caterer” brought the food samples in her purse after taking public transportation to get there and also sharing that same food with another client at another appointment on the way there. (I mean, I get it, when you’re just starting out as a caterer getting business and cutting costs can be tough, but come on– no need to violate food safety codes.) Or the contractor who took a 50% deposit for work then never did the work and disappeared. Or the cleaning ladies who did a terrible job cleaning, broke a mirror, and refused to replace it. (Possibly they weren’t exactly insured even though their Thumbtack profile said they were but Thumbtack never actually asks for proof of insurance? I clicked the “insured” box when filling out a profile for both Thumbtack and Amazon and neither of them actually requested proof of insurance from me…) Or the countless contractors who suspect that Thumbtack itself is a fraud when they pay to bid on jobs they never get and even get alerts that “there’s still time to bid because no one has bid on this job” after they did indeed bid on it and lost that money.
Call me old fashioned, but when I hire any type of service professional I spend a little time and effort researching them, calling them and talking with them, comparing and contrasting, until I find the person I feel can help me finish the project for a price that’s reasonable to me and within the industry standards they should be paid.
When I started to fill out a profile on Amazon Home Services just so I can see what it was all about, I didn’t even get past their legal agreement which basically gives them my kidneys. Upset about their process and representation of photographers specifically, I emailed the guy who emailed me a friendly “hey you started filling out a profile for your business but stopped, why is that?” I’ll just paste my email to him below since it pretty much sums things up.
I sent the email 2 months ago and haven’t gotten a response.