What is it with us Brits and agencies?
They are everywhere in this country, much more so than in the US, for example.
I`ve been feeling it most in advertising through our investment in Buy.At, and estate agents have been figuring prominently in my thoughts about the property sector (of which more below and in a later post). Then yesterday I had lunch with an old friend who runs a company that sells candidate assessment tools and he was complaining that recruitment agencies are a problem for him in driving innovation in his sector.
Don’t get me wrong, good agencies can offer tremendous value add, and my friends at Blue Barracuda are a great example of that. Unfortunately, however, not all agencies were created equal, and some can be a real drag on innovation.
The power of the web is that it can offer a lot of the services we typically rely on agents for. Two of the main services – finding stuff and pricing it are really done bettter via the web – that way you can be more sure the search is exhaustive and the benchmarking accurate.
The other thing an agent does for you is help you figure out what you want. In this area the agency model is conflicted. The service here is really consultancy, yet the payment is typically a percentage of what you buy. So incentive for the agent is to get you to make a purchase quickly, without wasting his time. It is this dimension that can get in the way of innovation.
This is a bit of a rant, but I hope our love of agencies doesn’t hold back our internet sector. For example zillow.com in the US property sector has an innovative model of building a permanent database of properties that the owner can simply mark as for sale when they choose (or can show a `make me move` price). This wouldn’t fly today in the UK because estate agents control 99% of the market, but it has a chance in the US where a much greater proportion of homes are sold direct.