A year ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could ‘outsource’ ironing of my clothes in London. A few years ago, it was un-imaginable to find someone to provide such services at whatever cost. Whereas this time, I had a person come home to collect the clothes, iron them, and home-deliver them the next day – and at very affordable rates! I’d heard similar experiences from others looking for plumbing, painting and domestic-moving services. It looks like traditional DIY markets like the UK are undergoing sea changes.
Recent experience indicates that so are traditional “Never DIY” markets like India. Of late, it has become very difficult to get plumbers and electricians for doing small household repair and installation jobs. Does this indicate a severe shortage of supply in comparison to demand? I don’t think so, because whenever demand outstrips supply, prices tend to shoot up. This hasn’t happened — because whenever you do manage to find someone, they don’t charge disproportionately high rates.
Instead, the disorganized state of the household services market in India is the likely explanation for whatever is happening. You call an electrician today, he tells you he’ll turn up tomorrow. The next day, someone else calls him, he goes to their house immediately, forgetting then and later that he’d committed to visit yours! In other words, while there is enough supply to meet the demand, there is a lack of a mechanism to match the two and schedule supply against demand. Normally, market-makers jump in to streamline things in such markets. This seems to be already happening in the household services market, judging by the number of ads for wannabe market-makers who operate with nothing more than a telephone number or a website listing. You just have to log your requirements with the market-maker, they are supposed to route it to a service provider who fulfills them.
Have the present day market-makers made a significant difference to buyers? Can buyers log a requirement with a market-maker and rest assured that a service provider will arrive on the promised day to carry out the job?
Unfortunately, no. I recently came across a market-maker for household services on an online portal. I logged my requirement for some electrical work. In response, I got a long list of electrical shops with the respective telephone numbers. The portal promised that one of these electricians would call me back in the next 1-2 days to arrange next steps. But, in the same breath, they also advised me to call the electricians if I didn’t hear from them after three days. As it turned out, not a single electrician called me. It was obvious that the market-maker had no influence or control over the network of electricians listed in their directory. As a result, they were of no use to me compared to a telephone book.
We can expect professionalization of this market only if these wannabe market-makers come to grip with their customers’ true expectations and gear themselves up to perform a true market-maker’s job. The entry of a large business house could also change the way this business operates.
Or, it is possible that my explanation is wrong. If demand outstripping supply is the real reason behind the current state of affairs, then India might quickly turn from a traditional Non-DIY to a DIY market!