August 18, 2019

Amazon launches “Home Services” business, wants to give you drum lessons


Today Amazon officially announced Amazon Home Services, a marketplace where customers can request repair work and personal lessons from service providers in their area. The concept is like TaskRabbit—services are provided by individual contractors, not Amazon, but those contractors are rated by customers and vetted by the online shopping behemoth. All services provided are backed by Amazon.

Services include banal things like assembling a bed (from $57 to $140), installing a garbage disposal ($149 to $200), setting up a wireless printer ($84 to $210), or “computer software configuration” ($120 to $210). The value proposition for Amazon Home Services is that people don’t have to call around to find a contractor and then get a quote from them—the price is listed up front. For a custom job, you’ll get a quote delivered to you after you specify the details of the job.

You can also find more whimsical things on Amazon Home Services, like drum lessons or “goat grazers”—sadly there were no master drummers or goats for hire in my area. With drum lessons (or math lessons or French lessons, all of which are listed on Amazon’s website now) buyers can get a free trial lesson and then pay for a package of further instruction through the site. If you’re hiring a goat, the price will depend on how much backyard you need it to eat.

(“Goats can eat thistle, blackberry, English Ivy, kudzu, poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak, wisteria, various grasses, and more,” Amazon’s information page on that service helpfully offers. The online marketplace revolution is about to disrupt goat diets forever!)

Still, the services vary by location (good luck getting anything done in Idaho) and getting the job done is not always as easy as you might imagine. The cheapest service I could find in my area was getting windshield wipers replaced ($15 if you provide your own wiper blades). I selected that service, hoping that a team of underemployed teens/drones would descend on my vehicle within the hour. I was disappointed to learn that, despite the “Home Services” moniker, I could only get the service if I took my car in to a nearby shop—even then, I couldn’t get an appointment until Wednesday. Sorry, but I can replace my own wiper blades, after all.

Some services, like “virus and spyware removal,” will give you the option of coming in to a store that provides the service or tacking on an extra $30 to get someone to do it in your home. That makes Amazon’s computer repair services not unlike Best Buy’s Geek Squad, which has been running a similar business model for at least a decade.

I also checked out the Amazon Home Services page for tire installation. Obviously that’s a service that would be best done in a garage, but the Amazon listing didn’t offer the name of the company providing the service, so I searched for the address of the place I’d have to take my car to, and it came up with SpeeDee Oil Change & Auto Service in Redwood City. I contacted the owner of SpeeDee, Arun Nageal, and he said he was a part of Amazon Home Services’ beta program and has had seven or eight new customers this year because of the listing on Amazon.

“I took over this business in September of last year, and I was looking at every possible way to grow my business,” Nageal said over the phone. “Amazon coincidentally approached me and said, ‘would you be interested?’… It sounded like a good idea. I’m an Amazon user and a shopper,” he said.

He was a little bit skeptical at first, mostly because Amazon makes service providers list the fees for their services upfront. “It does make me a little bit nervous [to list prices on Amazon], but at the end of the day, you have to do pros and cons, and the con is people are going to know competitors’ prices, but at the end of the day it’s equally easy to just walk over to another shop and ask their price,” Nageal said.

He added that he wasn’t sure what percentage Amazon was taking from transactions done over its new marketplace. “The reason I need to check is I also have something with a Groupon; sometimes it’s a little muddy.”

Amazon has been looking to expand into home services for quite some time, but now that its market has launched, the featured services seem a little slim. Babysitting is not on the list, for example, although it was rumored to be one of the first things offered.

Of course, Amazon takes a cut. (The company isn’t offering details, but The Verge says a beta version of Amazon Home Services’ website showed Amazon taking 20 percent on standard services, 15 percent on custom, and 10 percent on recurring services). It’s safe to assume that the money for Amazon is in installation jobs, where a person comes out once to set up one physical object, ideally also purchased on Amazon.

Once you find a babysitter or drum teacher you like on Amazon Home Services, there’s less of a drive to keep paying through Amazon if the company is taking a cut. If you really love your drum teacher, you’ll pay her under the table and let her keep the extra 10 percent.

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Amazon launches “Home Services” business, wants to give you drum lessons

MARTINO: Poison ivy is prevalent in summer

July 20, 2014

MARTINO: Poison ivy is prevalent in summer

It might be pretty, but don’t touch

Kokomo Tribune

“Looks like you got into some poison ivy again,” I said to my mother last week. It was easy to tell as a red rash covered her arms and her face was painfully swollen. She is one of those people who loves being outdoors yet highly allergic to the common plant. Sometimes I believe she can get the rash by simply looking at the noxious weed.

Dermatologists estimate about 10 percent of the population has no allergic reaction to poison ivy. That means for the other 90 percent, a brush with the viney shrub can have miserable consequences.

With summer kicking into high gear, poison ivy is lush and plentiful. The weed is a master of disguise and can grow as a shrub, vine or common looking ground cover. Leaves can be shiny or dull with edges smooth or notched.

So how can it be properly recognized? The phrases of “leaves of three, let it be,” and “berries of white, take flight,” are good rules of thumb. Whether hiking in the woods, gardening or even playing in the backyard, it is important to be aware of plants with three leaflets.

Poison ivy tops the list of plants to avoid because it is the most common, growing almost everywhere. It contains urushiol, an oily resin that binds to the skin on contact, resulting in a reaction characterized by an itchy, burning rash that can also lead to blistering of the skin. The rash-causing sap is a clear liquid found in the plants’ leaves, roots and everywhere in between.

Urushiol is extremely potent and only one nanogram (one billionth of a gram) is all it takes to cause a reaction. Although now is peak growing season for poison ivy, it is potent year round. Even worse, urushiol oil can remain active for several years, so even handling dead leaves or vines can cause a reaction. In addition, oil transferred from the plant to other objects, such as clothing, gardening tools or hunting and fishing equipment will cause a rash when it comes into contact with human skin. Pets can be another transporter of the oily resin.

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MARTINO: Poison ivy is prevalent in summer

Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes: Redemptive words for poison ivy

Western poison ivy grows as a knee-high shrub statewide. We are now seeing patches of it that have begun displaying beautiful yellow and red autumn foliage colors. The shiny leaves always have three leaflets, with the center leaflet featuring a longer stem. The plants grow in forest areas but also out in the open. Small, light-green flowers appear in June, and clusters of small, berrylike, pale-yellow fruits are ripe in September and hang on through the winter.

The common native poison ivy plants can be a nuisance to humans because of the serious skin irritations they cause, but they’re good ground cover that helps control erosion, is visually attractive and has considerable wildlife value. Included in the list of over 50 species of birds that eat the seeded fruits are sharp-tailed grouse, ring-necked pheasants, wild turkeys, black-capped chickadees, white-throated sparrows, yellow-rumped and Cape May warblers, and several of the woodpeckers. Black bears and rabbits are among the mammals that eat poison ivy leaves, stems and fruit.

It appears that only humans are susceptible to the toxic, oily compound that’s carried in the plant’s leaves, stems, roots, flowers and fruits. Sensitivity to poisoning can vary from person to person and can change during the course of a lifetime.

Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio Sundays at 7:15 a.m. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.


Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes: Redemptive words for poison ivy

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