July 22, 2015 / 11:05 AM / 4 years ago

Amazon expands home services marketplace in U.S. cities

A parcel travels along a conveyer belt at Amazon's new distribution center in Brieselang, near Berlin November 28, 2013. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) said on Wednesday it would expand a marketplace that offers home services from plumbing to fence repairs in 15 U.S. cities and help customers find contractors for more expensive home projects as it develops its role as a middle man for third-party vendors.    The e-commerce company said it now offers more than 15 million unique services through its home services marketplace, up from 2 million when it launched in March.

The home services platform is an ambitious frontier for Amazon, pitting it against consumer review sites Yelp Inc (YELP.N) and Angie’s List Inc ANGI.O as well as U.S. home improvement chains Home Depot Inc (HD.N) and Lowe’s Companies Inc (LOW.N), which have both invested in ways to link customers with service providers.

    “We have seen an incredible surge in applications from providers to be part of the platform since our launch and that’s what has allowed us to expand so rapidly,” Nish Lathia, general manager of Amazon Home Services, told Reuters.

    “Our plan is to add more services and locations,” said Lathia. Amazon said the website was focused for now on the home but could eventually offer a wider variety of services. Customers can already order piano lessons and find car mechanics on Amazon’s site.

Lathia said the home services site was predominantly used by members of Amazon Prime, the online retailer’s premium membership service. The company believes there is universal demand for reliable referrals for home improvement and other services, but declined to give specifics on the possibility of expanding the marketplace abroad.

Amazon will offer its home services to customers in 15 metropolitan areas including Chicago, Houston and Miami after applications from plumbers, electricians and other service providers wanting to list on the marketplace quadrupled since it launched in March. It declined to disclose the number of service providers currently available.

    Customers can select a variety of services such as plumbing and TV installation and see recommended local contractors and pricing. Now customers will also be able to request referrals for specialized and more complex projects such as installing air conditioning, Amazon said.

The company charges a 10 to 20 percent referral fee to contractors and provides customer support and refunds if there is any dissatisfaction with the service.

Amazon said it screens service providers and individual contractors thoroughly and less than 3 percent of applicants normally get through the vetting process.

Reporting by Mari Saito; Editing by Alan Raybould and Matthew Lewis

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