Angie Hicks has spent the last 21 years amassing more than 10 million ratings and customer reviews of home service companies and healthcare providers for paying members of her online service, Angie’s List.
This month, her company started offering this collection of verified reviews for free.
That’s right. Free.
If you’re looking for a plumber, cleaning service, handyman or help from 700 other categories of home services, Angie’s List should rank with the local Better Business Bureau among your first places to search.
The list includes at least two recent reviews of 22,000 businesses in the DFW area.
Nationwide, reviews of companies and healthcare providers from 253 major cities are on the list.
Why offer something for free that had 3 million paid subscribers?
“This is just access to the reviews,” said Cheryl Reed, spokewoman for Angie’s List. “For exclusive discounts from service providers and other benefits, you still have to have a paid membership.”
Current paid members were given the option of moving to the green membership, or locking in a two-year membership at one of the new paid levels, Reed said.
The strategy seems to be working.
Reed said Angie’s learned through data analytics that 90 percent of the people who came to the site didn’t sign up for a membership, so they couldn’t access any of the site’s information.
But since a soft launch of the free membership began in June, Angie’s List has added 700,000 members, according to an earnings statement released by the company this week.
“Now with our new offerings, the 10-12 million visitors coming to our site each month looking for help with their home will be able to more easily find the best local service providers,” said Scott Durchslag, president and CEO of Angie’s List, at a launch event last week in New York. “Since dropping the reviews paywall, a number of key member metrics are re-accelerating.”
Signing up as a free member could well lead to a paid membership, Reed said.
“Clearly people wanted to get our help,” Reed said. “And if you’re going to do something like remodel your whole kitchen, you may want to go to the silver level for our service level guarantee. For $25, it’s a good insurance policy.”
Other benefits planned for paid memberships in the future include tools for project pricing, scheduling and financing (through partnerships), a handyman chat line, a home emergency service line, instant hiring, as well as eCommerce savings, Reed said.
I signed up this week for the free membership, providing just my name, city, email address and a password. My first search was for a maid in Austin as my son moved out of his old apartment. It was easy to find a service that had grade of A with 300 positive reviews near his location at a reasonable price.
This shopping experience was much better than my previous efforts for such a service when I searched on Google.
Reed said that before the review firewall was lifted, even paid members could not search another city for services, as memberships were locked into one locality.
“But now people have children or parents or others that they need to search for in other cities,” she said. “This opens that up for all our members.”
Most companies, both good and bad, can only get on Angie’s List through member feedback. Members can provide extensive details on their experience with a contractor on a four-page form, including how long the work took compared with the contractor’s estimate, if the contractor showed up on time, what they liked most and least, and the quality of work.
Companies on the list are graded A to F by members. To ensure that grades are fair and accurate, Angie’s List staff weighs feedback on completed work more heavily than experiences that are limited to estimates or telephone customer service. Reviews are accepted from both members and nonmembers, but the latter cannot grade the company. Companies can’t change their rating and aren’t allowed to grade themselves.
How the final cost compares to the estimate is another feature of the service.
After a member has sent in a company report, Angie’s List employees contact the company for further information, including licensing, types of service provided, geographic area served and other related information. The list also checks the Better Business Bureau ratings.
Angie’s List also allows advertisements and discount offers on its free membership, with deeper discounts for paying members, Reed said. The company allows advertising and discounts only from service companies that have earned high grades for customer service, passed a criminal background check and provided valid license information.
So try it out the next time you need a service provider. You’ll be glad you did.
Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net
Angie’s List memberships
- Green: Free. Provides nationwide access to companies and consumer ratings and reviews. Signup requires a name and email address. Also includes monthly digital magazine.
- Silver: $24.99 a year. Includes Angie’s fair price guarantee and service quality guarantee, discounts, chat and email customer support, and a bimonthly print magazine.
- Gold: $99.99 a year. Includes complaint resolution process and customer support via phone.