Online comparison shopping for home alarm systems

An editor takes a trip into the point-and-click world of bids and price comparison for alarm systems


Of course, using the web for comparison shopping is nothing new. Companies like Orbitz, Hotwire, Travelocity and Priceline have been doing that for travelers for a number of years. And to some extent, we've seen that happen over at sites like ServiceMagic.com, where a potential alarm customer can fill in a request for information on an alarm system. At ServiceMagic, they have a fairly detailed information request list, so that you as alarm dealers would know whether you're bidding on a "2 windows and a door" type of project for an existing home, or a high-end system going into new construction. The consumer can even tell you where they want their keypads. The consumers fill out all the information, including what sort of timeframe they have for the project, and then they are matched with companies that ServiceMagic has partnerships with. To test out the system, I put in a request for a basic monitored home security system. After completing all the info, ServiceMagic.com came back with this response: "Your request has been successfully submitted. We're matching your project with prescreened pros and will notify you by email when we confirm their availability."

The downside to ServiceMagic's model is that it's really just a leads generator for affiliated companies, and consumers don't know who exactly is getting the bid information beyond the ones that respond. Secondly, there's a delay of information in that you have to wait for someone from one of their bidding companies to respond before you have any information on what the cost might be. In today's environment of instant access to information, that could be frustrating for consumers (caveat: It's not instant, but it's pretty quick – keep reading to see my discussion on the response to my request). The plus side is that your information gets handed to a salesperson who, if they're worth anything, will speak to you about your home and exactly what you need. While comparing 2 windows and a door might be suitable for base prices, most homeowners have unique attributes to their home (the big wall of windows facing their back deck, the fact that they never use the front door – only the side door, etc.) that make "stock system" pricing a bit of a challenge.

In the end, ServiceMagic seems to be the kind of site for customers who are willing to share a little information about their home over the web and in return they get to be lazy by having the alarm system suitors come to them. It's a different model from LocalPrice, which expects the consumer to do the research themselves (admittedly, they do make the research part of the equation quite easy). I had two calls within two hours from some reputable home security firms after putting in my bid, and someone from ServiceMagic even called to verify my request, and noted that they pre-screen their alarm dealers to make sure they are certified/licensed in the state they intend to operate. One of the calls was even from the head of marketing for a regional alarm systems company, so my request was going straight to the top! As a would-be consumer, this felt pretty good, even if I wasn't seeing rates from everyone.

Alarm dealers who join ServiceMagic.com pay for the leads they receive, though if you want, you can try out the service for 10 days for free according to their website.

Similar to ServiceMagic is BuyerZone.com. It also operates like a bidding lead generator, and within an hour after putting in my request, I had an email from BuyerZone giving me contact information for ADT and Broadview. A week later, I still had not received any calls from any companies offering to give me a bid, and since the contact information that BuyerZone provide was only for the company headquarters and not their local dealers, I didn't expect I would hear quickly. This one is still up in the air, but it has promise, especially because it does offer consumer ratings of the companies. ADT had over 6,500 ratings, and Broadview had over 1,700 ratings. The only challenge seemed to be that I was pitching a home security system in a major residential market (Atlanta), but only had info for the two national players. The question I had was for BuyerZone was this: Where are all the local alarm dealers?

A confusing and questionable site

Also on my list to checkout was HomeAlarmDirectory.com, a site I only recently became aware of after receiving a press release on a news wire. It touts itself as "America's #1 alarm systems directory", and says it gives "free online alarm quotes from ADT, Brinks Home Alarm and APX." As an industry insider, it quickly raised some red flags, chiefly because they referred to Brinks as Brinks Home Alarm instead of the old name Brink's Home Security or the current name Broadview Security.

With the computer at my fingertips, I jumped into the site, ready to get a bid for a home security system on a house in Atlanta. But that was about where things ended. Going to Georgia, they listed Atlanta as a location, but once you're on the page, it seems to be little more than a site that skims Google's information, stacks a map with data points of where company offices for security dealers are in Atlanta. What I finally find after perusing the site is that I can't get bids here, but there is a link to USAlarmCompanies.com where I can get bids for ADT, Broadview, APX, FrontPoint, Pinnacle and GE Security. I suspect that the sites have shared ownership.