One of the most impressive success stories of the last 200 years is certainly the development and dominance of Amazon. The company started out as an online bookseller and was one of the first companies to rely solely on the Internet for sales. At the time, experts couldn’t have dreamed that a company like Amazon would have so much impact on the retail landscape and across so many industries, including home medical technology (HME).
What the experts overlooked is that founder Jeff Bezos wasn’t just about being the biggest bookseller. He realized that the Internet would offer the opportunity to reach hundreds of millions of consumers, to whom Amazon could offer a vast universe of consumer products that were traditionally only available in retail stores. This shift in strategy from transactional to customer-centric has created a disruptive force in virtually all consumer goods industries.
Shop and buy online
My first encounter with Amazon was in 1997 when I was on a business trip and realized that it was easier to buy a book online than to go to a local bookstore 15 miles away. Little did I know that the $ 172 I spent on Amazon this year would grow to nearly $ 7,000 by 2019.
My list of items that are easier to buy online has expanded to include Christmas gifts, e-books, audiobooks, housewares, sneakers, and more. Amazon found that I was worth a lot more to them than just buying books.
When people access the Amazon website, they are usually there to purchase a specific product. Taking advantage of a general aversion to browsing and shopping, Amazon has developed a suggestive sales strategy to offer a wide variety of products that they believe will meet the needs of most consumers. It’s not about a transaction, but about the customer and the wide variety of products. The company’s use of suggestive and point-of-purchase selling techniques identifies free products that a consumer is considering adding to their order simply by clicking the “Buy Now” button. This strategy continues to create long-term Amazon customers.
The added value of HME
Products that I may not want to buy online are usually higher priced, complex, or items that require additional explanation or service. Amazon is great at a lot of things, but I can rarely answer technical questions or concerns online, or find specific solutions to complicated problems. This is where I – and your customers – need the help of an expert: someone who asks me questions, tries to understand my general needs, and offers advice and suggestions on how best to meet those needs. In other words, I need an advisor to guide me through my shopping journey. This is when I use the internet to find a local business with a showroom that I can visit to see the products and ask questions so I can make an informed purchase decision.
HME products, while sometimes expensive, are generally not overly complex. However, most consumers are not familiar with all of their choices and how different products can improve their quality of life. This unfamiliarity often leads to confusion, frustration and remorse on the part of the buyer. This is the opportunity for your HME company to use their expertise to ask the right questions, suggest suitable products to meet specific needs – and become a valued advisor who keeps this customer coming back. HME vendors can offer retail and advisory services to help this often vulnerable audience make good purchasing decisions while cementing lifelong customers.
The basic demographics of the HME customer base presents a great opportunity when vendors focus on all customer needs rather than just filling out a prescription. There are approximately 53 million people over the age of 65 in the United States. This corresponds to 16.2% of the total population. This age group is expected to grow to 21.6% of the population by 2040. According to the National Council on Aging, 80% of those over 65 have one chronic condition and 68% have two or more. This does not include obstructive sleep apena, slips and falls, or incontinence problems. Products that help with these conditions are primarily cash items, but very often consumers rely on the knowledgeable advice of counselors who are trained to answer their questions.
Another great and mostly cashless option is in personal mobility devices. According to Research and Markets, the personal mobility device market was valued at $ 7.7 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow to $ 14.6 billion by 2027. This category includes scooters, walking aids, crutches, walkers, and other personal mobility devices. As your HME customers age and their ability to walk deteriorates, they need a continuum of personal mobility devices to meet their changing needs. These consumers need professional assistance to navigate the myriad of products and choices. This is the perfect opportunity for the customer-centric HME provider.
Search for the long term
The key to understanding how to beat Amazon is realizing their strategy of focusing on the buyer’s long-term value. HME providers need to stop viewing each customer as a one-time transaction and instead see them as a continuous source of income. These consumers will require a wide variety of home medical device products and services as they age.
This customer-centric strategy of building “customers for life” forces HME organizations to look beyond their normal product categories and partner with distributors to offer products that can be delivered directly to the customer without ever being added to HME vendors’ inventory to have to . Incontinence articles, CPAP replenishment products, mobility accessories and accessories such as stomas and catheters are stored in the distribution facilities and can be sent directly to the end user for a small fee. The savvy HME vendor needs to market these products to their existing customer base – and invite them to the store to see any other products that can help them live better lives.
In a retail showroom, the HME retail advisor should be trained to suggest appropriate add-on items to the consumer. Using exploratory questions and listening to the client’s needs will help the consultant find additional products to showcase and help the client make a broader healthcare and / or lifestyle decision. Amazon has the same strategy on its website. When you buy a product, it suggests four to five additional products that other consumers have bought with that product. Feedvisor reported that an estimated 35% of all Amazon marketplace sales are generated through this recommendation engine.
How would increasing your retail sales from existing customers by 35% help your bottom line? Suggestive, advisory sales that focus on the overall needs of the customer are good for the HME provider – and can be life changing for the patient too. The only loser in this approach to HME products is Amazon.