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My rant on Thumbtack and Amazon Home Services

April 22, 2016 Published by . Leave your thoughts

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.

 

Hi Buck,

I looked into selling my services on Amazon Services and decided it was not in my best interest to do so.  Frankly, I don’t believe Amazon should be offering photography services on the site at all.  It’s an industry much more personal and particular than a lot of the other services you’re offering on your site (such as TV installation, furniture assembly, appliance repair, etc.), and as a photographer, I’m actually a little insulted by the way in with photography services are represented on your site.
 
There is no place on any of the pages for me to upload photos of my work or link to my portfolio, and clients choose their photographer based on the quality of his or her portfolio.  You’ve got stock images sitting as thumbnails for each photography service, and your customers are going to assume that those photos are indicative of the quality of work they will get with any of the photographers they choose, and it’s not.  The purchasing and choosing setups of the site are also confusing, so most customers are not going to understand which photographer is doing the work, and what they get with their session, and will likely show up to their photo session expecting something totally different than what is actually offered.
 
Also, you’ve set up certain packages or offerings for all photographers to fit into, and that’s not how most photographers work.  I also believe the percentage fee you’ll be taking from each purchase is too high, especially since photography services are not featured anywhere on your website and I had to go through lots of pages and searching to even find photo services.
 
After reading through the contract/agreement in order to sell services on Amazon I also couldn’t bring myself to sign it because (and correct me if I read it wrongly) something in the agreement states that any of my materials (such as a logo and images) are released to Amazon to use on the Amazon website.  I cannot possibly agree to this, as it creates a possibility that you could use a photograph from my portfolio as a stock image to sell photography services in general, which would lead customers to believe it’s another photographer’s work.  I believe the agreement also releases Amazon from settling any disputes, so if a customer is unhappy with the photo services and paid through the Amazon site, you could grant them a refund without giving the photographer the opportunity to handle it– putting the photographer in a position where he or she could waste time on a shoot and not be paid later.
 
I understand that it’s possible your intentions are noble, by allowing photographers to sell their services through such a high-profile site as Amazon and increase their business, but it’s actually doing more harm than good.  Photography is something that can’t be bucketed into a simple service on a site like this, since each photo session is different and each photo client has different needs. Photography services also range in price based on geographic area and the skill and experience of the photographer.  By offering such discounted rates and high “finders fees” taken from each booking, you’re going to end up with unskilled photographers, customers expecting more than they’re getting, and undercutting the pricing in the industry as a whole by confusing customers in the ways in which to choose their photographer.
 
Please consider removing photographer services from your Amazon Services offerings.
 
Thank you, 
 
Michelle Kaffko
Photographer