Buy a sofa, hire a helper: Handy expands retail partnerships

These days, lots of customers don't want to just buy TVs and sofas. They also want someone to come over to hang up the flat screen or put the furniture together.

Handy CEO Oisin Hanrahan says that's been an opportunity for the company to expand its partnerships with retailers.

Launched nearly six years ago as an online platform where people could hire professionals to clean homes or put up a ceiling fan, the company has moved into partnerships with stores and shopping sites to offer its services to customers. On Wayfair, for example, people buying furniture can also hire someone to assemble it for them as they check out. At Walmart, a test at its Atlanta stores lets shoppers hire Handy professionals at the register when they buy a TV or furniture.

More retailers are offering similar services: Amazon shoppers can hire workers; and Ikea recently said it would buy TaskRabbit to offer assembly help when shoppers buy furniture.

Hanrahan talked recently with The Associated Press about the competition and why retailers want to offer these services. The questions and answers below have been edited for clarity.

Q: Why can't people hang their own TVs or assemble their own bookcases?

A: I don't think people can. There are three places people learned these skills: home, school and work. And if you think about the changes that have happened over the last couple of decades at home, school and work, it makes sense that people don't have these technical skills anymore. At home, there's been a change in consumptive behavior from repair to replace; people don't repair stuff anymore, they replace it. At work, manufacturing in the U.S. is in huge decline. So companies aren't teaching people how to repair machines or how to do technical work. And schools, because of the decline of manufacturing, aren't teaching this tradecraft anymore.

The second thing is that I think we are seeing people make this tradeoff between time and money.

Q: Are you worried about the competition?

A: So Amazon is definitely doing this, but they're doing it for themselves, for people who buy things on Amazon. What we don't see is Amazon offering that service to other retailers. So that creates a lot of space for us to go and serve those other retailers.

Q: What's in it for the retailers?

A: The first is that people are more likely to buy when they can have a product assembled. Second, the average order value goes up. People actually buy bigger baskets when they don't have to do the assembly. So instead of buying a table with four chairs I might buy a table with six chairs. The third one is that returns go down. The reason it goes down is that customers are happier when somebody professional assembles their product for them. The fourth thing retailers see is that the repeat purchase rate goes up.

Q: How many professionals are on the Handy platform?

A: 80,000 people that are fully background checked and insured and ready to work.


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