Short Take : Does Search Fulfilment Work Better Than Best of Breed? Google, JustDial Vs Them All

justdial.jpgJustdial recently announced its intention to drive transactions, not just leads (which it does for booking movie tickets already), across categories. In effect, it’ll be responsible for the cab turning up at your place, ensure that the dinner order is delivered, help book movie tickets, and even fix up an appointment with a doctor!

The restaurant table booking and ordering has been live for some time already. (I did try placing an order, and got a call with a polite “Am I speaking to Mr. Test User Bangalore?” for a confirmation of the same. Cancelled it, of course.)

Does all this make sense for a horizontal search engine to get into? Or is the best-of-breed that aggregators can better attempt this for a specific vertical a better approach to solving these problems?

We’re talking about DNA here.

Olacabs, TaxiForSure and a dozen others are still grappling with cabs turning up reliably, consistently, profitably while still being value for the customer, in a very competitive market to boot. They’ve solved a few problems and keep encountering new ones all the time. Even a tiny percentage of dissatisfied users can create a negative perception amongst end users of the service, and the problems can arise from multiple parts of the industry. Clearly, a good understanding, and some level of control and measurement over at least a few of these is critical to the quality of service delivered, and we’d be surprised if search players can focus on that!

It’s the same for food delivery. JustEat has been around for years, and you still see the odd complain on Twitter – it’s not apparent if adoption of this service can be called “mass” yet.

Burrp, Yelp and of course, the big daddy of them all, Google, have stayed away from the last mile responsibility of this. Showing addresses, phone numbers is great, reviews and ratings are good too, and a call connect is awesome, especially on the phone. But they’ve picked their side of the battle and stayed put. For a reason.

If you get involved in the final service, or product, you will be judged for it, whether you like it or not. Flipkart is still learning about that as they move away from a well oiled, tightly controlled inventory based model to a more heterogenous, less controlled marketplace one. It’s NOT easy.

Delyver is an interesting one, and at least at a hyperlocal scale, seems to be working well. It’s almost a real life plug-and-play API for local services and solves the delivery related infrastructure and manpower hassles for them! Google (now dying) Checkout and Wallet are trying a different horizontal play in services as well. Discovery engines can participate without necessarily having to offer the final service themselves!

JustDial probably got excited by the margins and profitability this model seems to suggest. Of course, there’s no inventory, no cost of delivery, no direct business charges. But if it needs to be scaled, it will take a lot of resources and expertise to manage relationships with partners, to create and run systems and checks to ensure or even just measure and share with users the levels of quality of vendors and to handle and process complaints, and importantly, how to handle customer support, refunds and maybe even litigation. Without those in place, the slide can happen really really quick and there will not be many takers for such a service.

It is a big bet, and one worth taking given the payoff can be big. But it’s not an easy one to pull off, especially for a business as old and I daresay – traditional – as JustDial. Direct tie-ups with individual service providers are probably a bad idea. A partnership approach with best-of-breed providers, and even better – a marketplace model which manages vendor reputation transparently and sets expectations of self evaluation at the user end, along with mechanisms for arbitration, might be much more durable and scalable.

Whether JustDial goes down this path seriously, or sticks to its core competence of being a preferred local discovery engine will be interesting to watch.

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