Angie’s List: Is the Service Site Worth Its Membership Fee?

Angie's List: Is the Service Site Worth Its Membership Fee?
By now you’ve probably encountered an ad for Angie’s List, the website that lets consumers view ratings and reviews of businesses and service professionals in their area.

Angie’s List ads are everywhere, including on television, radio, websites, and billboards. And although the ads make the site sound appealing, they sometimes hide one crucial point: Angie’s List has a yearly $29 base subscription.

Finding a new doctor, or perhaps a team of contractors to help with major home renovations, can be daunting without the help of personal recommendations. Even so, we wondered whether this interactive Yellow Pages-like service is worth shelling out a monthly or yearly fee to use. Is it necessary to pay for such services listings, or can you find the same or better information elsewhere for no cost at all?

To learn more about the mysterious Angie, we spoke to an Angie’s List representative, interviewed Angie’s List subscribers, and tried the service firsthand. We also looked at two key competitors in the world of online contractor lists: Service Magic and Yelp, both of which are free for customers to access.

So, who is Angie, and is she the best game in town? Let’s find out.

What Is Angie’s List--and Who Is Angie?

Angie Hicks of Angie's List
Angie Hicks of Angie's List
Angie’s List is a service listing and review site that offers user-based rankings and reviews of service professionals in local areas. Angie Hicks launched the company in 1995 after a friend moved to Columbus, Ohio, and had a difficult time finding reliable contractors. The list originally had 1000 members in Columbus, but it has since expanded to cover most major U.S. metropolitan areas.

The price of admission to Angie’s List is reasonable: Plans start at $3.25 per month for one list (either Angie’s List or the newer Angie’s Health & Wellness listings) plus a $5 startup fee, or you may choose a yearly plan that waives the fee. Paying for the $29 yearly subscription also gives you a 26 percent discount, as opposed to paying the month-to-month amount over 12 months.

When you sign up for Angie’s List, you designate your hometown, and you instantly see the list for your community. The fee includes access to more than 500 service categories (from housecleaners to handymen to gardeners to child-care providers), the professionals, their user reviews, Angie’s List customer service, and several other resources on the site.

Angie's List: Is the Service Site Worth Its Membership Fee?
The site showcases customer reviews and letter grades ("A" being the highest and "F" the lowest) for each professional on the list. An Angie’s List member can search for a professional by category or by name, and then can read reviews and rankings written by other Angie’s List members who have hired that contractor in the past.

Its roughly 1 million members, who post about 40,000 reports each month, generally seem satisfied. The Better Business Bureau gives Angie’s List an A+ overall ranking, and the service is BBB accredited. That means the service pays a fee for accreditation review, as well as for support of BBB services to the public.

Customer feedback has been positive in general. Former Angie’s List subscriber Gene Heller of San Francisco was pleased with his membership. He discovered a reliable auto-repair service through the site roughly three years ago, and still uses that repair shop to this day. Heller found Angie’s List to be more reliable than free sites such as Yelp, and says Angie's List is worth the money if you’re in great need of a home contractor, a good fix-it shop, or health services.

"I would flat out trust it more than Yelp," Heller says. "It is too easy to game Yelp, too easy to filter out negative reviews. Angie’s List, as far as I can tell, is immune to all of that."

Membership Benefits

Angie’s List members reap some benefits for their bucks. Angie’s List ads stress one concept over and over again: accountability. Cheryl Reed, director of communications for Angie’s List, is quick to address this subject.

"Angie’s List puts a huge emphasis on accountability," Reed says. "We oversee [the review process] by both technology and user review, and we provide ways for consumers and companies to talk about issues they might have."

Angie's List: Is the Service Site Worth Its Membership Fee?
Reviews are never anonymous, and Angie’s List takes precautions to prevent service companies from manipulating their ratings--for example, a company cannot review itself, nor can a company remove a review or listing. Additionally, members can report on a specific company or professional only once every six months, and they must confirm that they are not affiliated with the business. Angie’s List hopes that these measures help keep the review process fair and exclusive to members.

Secondly, the reviews on Angie’s List are in-depth, organized, and to the point. Users rate a service based on price, quality, responsiveness, punctuality, and professionalism, and then assign an overall letter grade. Customers also write a personalized account to provide more feedback.

If a customer has a bad experience with a recommended service professional, Reed says that the company's complaint-resolution team works with the service pro and the customer to resolve the issue--sometimes by arranging for the contractor to fix whatever went wrong in the first place.

"We always go to bat for our members if they ask for help," Reed explains, "and we have pretty good luck, since many companies are savvy enough to understand the power of a negative review."

Next: Drawbacks of Angie's List; Angie's Competitors

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