Selling products online isn’t new. Amazon.com was founded in 1994, eBay started in 1995, and Walmart.com launched in 2000. Things are relatively easy to ship from one place to another.
Service businesses, though, have lagged behind. Until now.
It might seem like bringing many services online is an impossible task. How can a tailor, a therapist, or a nanny service clients across the globe? It seems obvious that these professions require local providers. But some service companies are developing online business models that work surprisingly well.
The Rise of the Service Industry
As people spend more and more time working, the demand for all kinds of services has increased. This is particularly true when it comes to personal and domestic services, such as cooking, cleaning, lawn care, and child care.
Demand for business services has also increased. Outsourcing service work, such as IT or advertising, has become more and more widespread.
Their business models are different, but they all embrace technology to make it possible. Trumaker says that an in-person fitting is non-negotiable, so you order a tailor online to visit your office for a 15-minute fitting, and then go online to select and customize a dress shirt based on your measurements. If they don’t have a rep stationed in your city, a traveling rep will come by when they’re in town.
Other tailors are even less hands-on. MTailor takes your measurements via a scanning app on your smartphone. You simply spin around in front of your phone, allowing the app to generate your measurements. MTailor claims this technique is 20% more accurate than the measurements of a professional tailor.
Telepsychology – therapy via phone, webcam, email, or text messages – has been around for about two decades. In the past, it was mostly used by members of the military. But with smartphones, virtual therapy has become even easier to access. Companies like Talkspace provide a platform to match therapists with clients.
It might seem like therapy should only work up-close with a therapist, but some studies have shown that internet therapy can work. In fact, the perceived anonymity that is characteristic of virtual therapy may prompt patients to be more open about their struggles. A busy schedule or a small budget can make it hard for some people to stick to a therapy regimen; it’s easier to commit to therapy visits that take place in their own homes or dorm rooms, and at a lower fee. And for some patients, virtual therapy may be a smaller step for them to take, providing them with positive experiences that will motivate them to seek in-person therapy down the line.
But the innovation goes even farther. It’s not just mental-health therapy, and it’s not just for individuals.
Schools around the country require speech-language therapy for students with speech, language, and communication challenges. But for schools in rural areas, this can be a struggle — there simply aren’t enough local, qualified therapists for their students. The solution to this dilemma comes from companies like Global Teletherapy who deliver virtual speech-language therapy to students in remote areas.
Caregiving – whether for children, individuals with special needs, or the elderly – may seem like one field that is immune to going virtual. Surprisingly, Care.com found a business model that has challenged this assumption.
Care.com launched in 2007 as a platform where people can easily find caregivers who fit their requirements. Today, the site has over 25 million members across 20 different countries. They even offer their services to companies like Google and Facebook, who make this part of their benefits packages.
Would you buy a home sight unseen? Buying a house is a big deal, which is why most people like to visit a prospective home with a real estate agent. But if you’re making an cross-country or international move, sometimes squeezing an in-person tour into an already packed schedule can be a challenge. Matterport has changed all of that, combining virtual reality with househunting.
Imagine slipping on a VR headset and walking through a prospective home in Italy — while still at your home in the US. That’s just what Matterport provides, giving the company a cutting-edge advantage over real estate brokers who are still selling houses the “old fashioned” way.
Perhaps one of the most powerful examples of a job that is using technology to break through previously insurmountable barriers is surgery. In the past, it would have been inconceivable for a surgeon to work remotely, but now it is becoming closer and closer to an everyday reality.
Telesurgery, in which the doctor can remotely control one or more arms in order to perform surgery on a distant patient, is currently too expensive to be used on a regular basis. As technology improves, however, it is hoped that telesurgery will provide specialized care for all patients, regardless of their locations. In the future, this technology might prove especially useful on the battlefield, or even in space exploration missions, providing care for those who are beyond reach of traditional medicine.
Leaping into the Online World
What does this mean for you? Change is happening quickly, and virtual business models are around the corner. As more and more service industries go virtual, you should consider how this will happen for your field. Whether you’re a painter, a mechanic, or a mortgage broker, you can expect your field to change before your eyes in the very near future.
Still feel your industry is immune to web-based services? Think more broadly. Brainstorm ideas of how you can globalize your services, or at least provide some of them online for local clients. Think about what your customers want most, strategize ways to break free of physical limitations, and jump in with a test. Taking your services online is the wave of the future, and you don’t want to be left behind.