The rise of Groupon and its ilk showcases a larger trend that Silicon Valley already knows: the Internet is transforming local commerce. But what many don’t realise is that we’ve only gotten a glimpse of the revolution that’s coming.
This move marks a role reversal for ecommerce, which originally emerged as a counterpoint to traditional brick-and-mortar stores. Amazon offered a substitute to your local supermarket; Netflix killed video stores. But in the same way that the weight of the social Internet has shifted toward strengthening real-life connections rather than offering an alternative to them, so have local merchants started to benefit from the Internet that once threatened them. Groupon helps me discover stores and experiences in my city. My neighbourhood sushi joint tweets to let me know they just got fresh uni. The way I interact with my community storefronts and restaurants has totally changed — I am a more efficient, informed and loyal consumer.
But up to now, there’s been one local market that still begs for this treatment: the informal service sector. These are the merchants who don’t have storefronts or sleek websites or any real marketing. They were wary of the Internet before, and Craigslist horror stories only scared them further away.
Last year, Americans spent hundreds of billions on local services, but there still isn’t a good, secure way to find them online. I need a house cleaner who I feel comfortable giving a copy of my house key to; I need a handyman to help me install a new light fixture. Or, even more difficult, I need a Ukrainian tutor or someone to do a head-to-toe Hollywood-calibre bodypaint job for Halloween. And ideally, I’d like to be able to compare multiple bids, schedule now and pay them online.
I want the efficiency of an Internet transaction paired with the immediacy of a local service exchange.
Only now do we have the variety of tools that allow this fusion to happen. Local services are increasingly moving online, and it’s exciting to watch this swing gain momentum. At Thumbtack, we’re creating a community marketplace for local services. The dramatic response we’ve seen as we reach out to local providers makes it clear that we’re answering an unmet demand: over 115,000 service professionals actively use the site. They have all been vetted to ensure they’re not scammy, they’re not sex offenders, or don’t otherwise fail our high community standards, and we’re now generating them a new lead every 20 seconds.
The Internet’s transformation of local commerce is just getting started. Don’t be surprised when the local space produces multiple Amazon or eBay sized companies. The demand is real and barely tapped.