Google's ambitions are virtually limitless: curing death, teleportation, renewable energy and so on. Add another one to the list: fixing your clogged toilet.

Following closely behind its arch-rival Amazon, Google is planning to launch a new product connecting users with home services providers like plumbers, housecleaners, electricians and carpenters.  The move, expected to be announced within the next few weeks, is in keeping with a broader corporate strategy of "closing the loop" between buyers and sellers rather than simply introducing the two through advertising. Google Express, its e-commerce service, now serves six urban areas, including Chicago and Boston. 

But for a company that prides itself on total informational awareness, the home-services market poses unique challenges. “Local services will be harder because the data’s not as transparent on what you can provide,” says Manpreet Singh, founder of TalkLocal, a startup that helps customers book appointments with approved service providers. A contractor doesn’t know how much it will cost to retile your bathroom until she goes in and sees it.

For that and other reasons, Singh expects Google to partner with companies like his rather than try to go it alone, even though it will mean cutting in another middleman. That’s the approach Yelp has taken in its own efforts to close the commerce loop, and it’s also how Amazon, which has a partnership with TaskRabbit, is easing into the home-services game.

One unanswered question in all this is how Google will square its new push with the $100 million investment it made in Thumbtack through its Google Capital arm last year. The San Francisco-based company provides essentially the exact same service Google is looking to start, connecting service providers to customers for a commission.

The apparent conflict of interests is reminiscent of the situation unfolding between Google and Uber. Google Ventures has invested $250 million in the car-service startup, but Google is also said to be developing its own ride-summoning product, a development that would put the two giants into direct competition. 

 

 

Published on: Apr 7, 2015