Angie’s List: Is the Service Site Worth Its Membership Fee?
Drawbacks of Using Angie’s List
Of course, the Angie’s List model isn’t perfect. For starters, Angie’s List focuses on finding professionals in your immediate community. That one-community approach won’t exactly work if you, say, live in Milwaukee but own a Denver vacation home that needs repair, or if you want to hire a maid service for an out-of-town family member. Customers must add an extra location to their membership profile to gain access to the list for that city, and doing so jacks up the price by $10, $15, or $20, depending on the city and the size of the market. Plus, the add-a-city option is available strictly as an annual membership--even if your main membership is month-to-month, you can pay for your added city only through a yearly subscription.
Another thing to consider is that consumers cannot try out Angie’s List before purchasing a membership. Garrett Coulter joined Angie’s List Health & Wellness to find a new dentist, but he discovered that only 2 out of 40 dentist listings in his district had actual user reviews.
"It would be better if users could search reviews to see who has been reviewed without seeing the review itself before ... paying for the service when there is no value for that user," Coulter wrote in an Angie’s List message board thread.
(To be fair, an Angie’s List moderator responded directly to Coulter’s complaint in the forum, and explained that consumers can call customer service to inquire about the amount of listings for a given area before purchasing a membership.)
Other customers are skeptical when it comes to the validity of the reviews on the site. It is an Angie's List policy, however, to issue at minimum a one-year suspension if a company is found to be providing the site with fraudulent information.
Competition From Free Service Listings
Angie’s List has a bevy of competitors, but two seem to offer a similar product without the cost.
One of these sites, Service Magic, has a system that matches professionals and customers based on the assignment. Customers describe their project and answer a few questions, and then Service Magic presents three or four quotes from different contractors best suited for the project. The quotes are free, but beware: Users have reported floods of calls and email messages from their matches, all vying for their business. Customers can write a review and post it on Service Magic once the project wraps up.
The company says that each professional on the site has gone through a background check, in which Service Magic searches for criminal records, bankruptcy issues, bad reviews, sex offenses, and cases of malpractice. If the contractor fails in one of those categories, then it will not be featured on the Service Magic site. More than 7000 service companies were turned down in 2010 due to their failure to pass the general background check, according to Brooke Gabbert, director of public relations and social media for Service Magic.
Another big Angie’s List competitor is Yelp, the popular site where users can post reviews on anything--restaurants, clothing stores, car dealerships, and home service professionals alike.
Unlike Angie’s List, Yelp is completely free. Users must create a profile before posting a review, but at no cost. Reading reviews is also free, and consumers do not have to set up a profile to read reviews. Customers rank businesses, and assign the companies a star rating from 1 (the worst) to 5 (the best). Currently Yelp boasts more than 20 million user reviews.
For business owners, offering their Yelp clients a special deal or discount is a popular tactic--so popular that business owners are now doing the same on Angie’s List. You'll frequently see the same professionals listed on Yelp and on Angie’s List, offering deals in both places.
Because using Yelp is free, business owners and employees can easily create fake profiles to boost their reviews. Yelp tries to prevent such behavior through the site's review filter, which is designed to spot fake or suspicious reviews. Nevertheless, you should use your own "filter" in deciding whether to trust a Yelp reviewer's stated opinion.
Which Is Better: Paid or Free?
Wondering which of the three sites might be best for you? Here's how they boil down.
Angie’s List offers a one-stop shop for finding service professionals in your immediate area, and does so in a structured, organized way. If you’re looking to hire a team of professionals in different areas of expertise, a subscription service like Angie’s List could save you time and give you the resources and feedback you need. Plus, Angie’s List provides extensive customer service and feedback.
Service Magic requires no membership fee, but users are limited to the three or four matches that the site supplies. Customers can then compare quotes among the provided matches and choose the one that’s best for the job at hand. Service Magic is ideal for anyone with a single specific project in mind; you avoid paying for a membership that you'll use only once.
Yelp allows you to read and post reviews for free--but since the site is entirely run by consumers, the listed companies don't pass through any sort of investigative background check. The arrangement also makes it easy for companies to create multiple accounts and boost their own ratings. Still, businesses listed on the site frequently offer coupons and discounts for their Yelp customers, and you can often get a whole community's opinion on a service provider if the listing has enough comments.
The Final Answer
These services--fee-based and free--appeal to different customers and needs. Although none of them have the perfect system for finding service professionals, the quality of customer service from Angie's List justifies the cost if you're looking to complete a big project or multiple projects, or if you just want the extra protections the site provides.
Of course, no matter which listing site you end up choosing, thoroughly conducting your own research on a business you expect to use will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.
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