Yelp and Google entering Thumbtack’s turf
A case study in how Yelp and Google’s request for quote systems work
They say imitation is the best form of flattery. In that regard, Thumbtack has gained the affection of the two giants of local business.
Thumbtack came up with a great business model for local. Unlike Yelp and Angie’s List, which provides local business reviews, Thumbtack combined a local listings and reviews platform with a “request for quote” feature.
The request for quote takes the headache of calling around to different service providers to check pricing and availability. With a simple questionnaire form, Thumbtack asks a customer for key requirements for their project. Once the form is complete, Thumbtack sends out the request for proposal to relevant service providers.
The businesses get a summary of the proposal with some customer and contact information masked. The business can buy credits to bid on the job. Thumbtack earns revenues with the sale of these credits.
Yelp and Google Local have now entered the “request for quote” business. The nice thing about Yelp and Google Local is that you can see the information and reviews of the businesses you wish to invite to quote your project. In the Thumbtack model, the submission is blind.
Google allows up to 3 bids at one time, whereas Yelp allows 10 bids at once. Thumbtack is more of mass blast to relevant providers, with a subset of these businesses deciding to pay for the credits in order to bid on the project.
1st try — Google
I was curious to try out the Google quote system. I sent the request for quote to three businesses. I received the first quote within one minute of the request. The other quote came a few hours later.
The two quotes that came in were pretty close in price. I emailed the first business to ask for an appointment for the service. There was no response. So instead I sent an appointment request to the 2nd business. Again, no response. Interestingly, I then received a notification from Google directly recommending I call the businesses to schedule the service.
2nd try — Yelp
All in all the Google experience was not bad, but I was expecting to be able to handle the scheduling process with an email rather than a call. Out of curiosity, I decided to try out the Yelp request for quote.
Wow! I sent out the bid to 8 businesses and received responses from all but 1 within 25 minutes. The last response came in less than 2 hours from the initial request. The approximate “replies by” that Yelp exposes to their customers creates a huge sense of urgency, which provides a far superior user experience than the Google process. Of the quotes, 4 offered the service, 3 did not offer the service, and 1 needed more information. Of the 4 that offered the service, two had the same price, and two were more expensive. Of the two lower priced offers, one was local, and one was far from my desired zip code. I messaged the local provider to schedule an appointment.
As you can see, the thread takes you back to Yelp, where you can keep track of the conversation. Unlike Google, the Yelp locksmith acknowledged the scheduling request, within 1.5 hours of the request.
Optimum number of quotes?
Google’s 3 bids seem too low, whereas Yelp’s 10 bids seems too many. There are a couple of potential problems with too many bid requests. Businesses may stop responding to quotes in a timely manner if they find that they are not gaining business from these proposals. Yelp performed impressively on my request, so that was not a problem for my test case.
Definition of quote
Thumbtack, as the pioneer in the request for quote game, seems to have the most comprehensive survey tool. Based on the service required, Thumbtack takes the user through a comprehensive job specific survey to get an accurate quote match. Google is pretty good, asking less, but the most pertinent questions. Yelp has some work to do. Their form is raw and free-form. What the Yelp and Google experiment illustrates is that the businesses performed well in the initial response, but the follow-up responses were not as good. If a Yelper does not add enough relevant detail in the request for quote, I imagine that the process would break down quickly. By asking a few project questions, Google and especially Thumbtack are better equipped to avoid vague requests that require a lot of back and forth discussions.
Another benefit of better defining the nature of the quote is that Yelp and Google can filter out businesses who do not handle the service. From Google’s 3 questions, they were able to filter out locksmiths who do not handle automotive key programming. In the Yelp quote, since the form is free-form, 3 of the 8 businesses ended up getting quote requests for services they do not offer. If Yelp adds a few quote definition questions, they can reduce these mismatches ahead of the final request for quote invitation.
Another thing that would be helpful for Yelp is to allow the customer to include photos to help explain the nature of the service they are looking for. For example, if someone wants a quote for lawn care services, the customer could upload photos of their front and back yards along with the level of service they are needing.
Scheduling tool needed
A natural improvement to the quote process is to offer a scheduling tool. In this way, if a customer decides to accept a quote, the business can offer the customer a set of times to schedule their appointment. The appointment can feed to the user’s calendars with the necessary reminders. The business can better manage their work loads and weekly schedule using such a tool. Additionally, the acceptance of the quote would have a cleaner process.
Jhonny and me
Jhonny of Speedy Locksmith requested to meet at the San Jose “The Plant” Home Depot parking lot for our appointment. He turned around the programming within 2 minutes. I only had a short period of time to ask him a few questions about his business and what the cost of the Yelp “request for quote” service cost him. This is what I learned.
Jhonny pays Yelp $300/month for an advertising package that includes the ability to respond to request for quotes. It is my understanding from Jhonny that only Yelp advertisers can take advantage of the request for quote tool. He is well aware that Yelp rates his response time and makes sure to get his quotes out quickly in order to score high. 50% of his business comes from Yelp, whereas the other 50% comes from Spanish language newspaper ads and Craigslist. He is busy from 9am — 5pm. After his quick programming of my key, he was eager to bolt to his next appointment. All in all, he finds the request for quote tool good for business, although somewhat disruptive. He appears to be running a one man show out of his service vehicle with his phone as his email and office. Although the $300 fee is not cheap, he believes the investment in Yelp advertising has paid for itself. Good guy. 5 out of 5 stars for the service.
The game is afoot
Yelp is best positioned to win the request for quote opportunity. Yelp has become the default start point when people are looking for local service providers. Having this respond to quote option for Yelp advertisers, offers a powerful selling tool for Yelp. Google has an a chance to be a major player in this request for quote business as well. When I ran a search for “locksmiths 95129”, the Google request for quote came to the top of the search results. I had no idea Google was in the request for quote game before this search. Thumbtack specializes in this feature, and has the most experience in optimizing the matching system. They are going to have their hands full as Yelp and Google begin to capture quote requests during the customer’s research and discovery phase. At this point, Thumbtack seems to have the most advanced request for quote service, but if Google and Yelp continue to put attention into this feature, it is going to get real.