VIDEO: The Pains and Promise of an ‘Amazon’ for Local Services
As investors continue to pour funding into the local services space, the competition over one of the last white spaces of the consumer web is heating up. During a session at Street Fight Summit West earlier this month in San Francisco, Ethan Anderson, founder at booking service MyTime, and Booker CEO Josh McCarter debated the dynamics of building an “Amazon for local services,” discussing the ins and outs of brings key features like one-click checkout from books and DVDs to haircuts and massages.]
“When you think of Amazon and eBay, the process of selling products online is pretty simple. The question is do have it in stock, what’s the process shipping it, and what’s the return policy,” said McCarter. “With services however, you have to know who’s working when, what services do they provide, and what room or facility do they need to be in. That whole multivariate aspect of scheduling services, means that you need a bunch of added tools.”
MyTime and Booker take slightly different approaches to solving that problem. Booker, which raised 27.5 million in April, sells a soup-to-nuts solution for businesses’ to manage their back end, similar to OpenTable — allowing customers to integrate scheduling services into a number of consumer-facing properties. MyTime, on the other hand, has built the consumer-facing site, which integrates with hundreds of scheduling software providers to aggregate inventory.
Both founders agreed that one of the biggest challenges in bringing local services online is organizing the typically messy pricing structures implicit in service businesses. “If you want to enable someone to come on your website and book a service, they have to know exactly what their getting ahead of time,” said Anderson. That means building custom SKUs for the number of add-ons and variations that a consumer may want in a service like a hair cut or massage.
It’s when the in-store booking process starts to diverge from the online experience that the system starts to collapse, says McCarter: “In the early days of travel booking, when there were extranets that people were loading data into, the system started to break down when that became asynchronous with what was happening with the hotel front desk when people were actually checking people in. It was very similar to what happened with a lot of service companies that couldn’t accommodate those people when they showed up.”
Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.