Colton Mason is senior vice president of Supreme Medical, a full-line medical supply distributor servicing homecare providers. Mason is the host of HME TV, an online series focused on the business success of the home medical equipment provider, which can be found on both YouTube and LinkedIn under the hashtag #HMETV. Visit suprememedical.com or view his daily vlog at hmetv.com.
For most home medical equipment (HME) providers, it’s a love-hate relationship. We love to use Amazon’s website to get low prices and free shipping in our personal lives, but hate when a patient pulls out their cellphone and tells your staff “… but I found it on Amazon for $20 less.” You may be asking the same question everyone in the HME industry is asking: How do I compete with Amazon on price?
The answer is simple. You don’t.
Competing with Amazon on price is much like competing with Eric Clapton on a guitar solo. You will lose. There’s a more important question you should be asking; to find it, simply drop the “on price” from the question and ask: How do I compete with Amazon?
Well, I’m glad you asked! Let me show you how you can turn this struggle into a strength for your HME business. Here are my top five tips for competing with Amazon:
1. Use the one-hour photo strategy.
The most important commodity that people value today is their time. This is a huge advantage you have over online retailers. A customer can walk into your store and leave with the product they need within minutes. Compare that to Amazon, where a patient has to wait one or two days for the product to be delivered to their home, even if they are paying the annual Prime membership fee. Use this fact to your advantage! When a customer pulls out their phone and asks one of your staff to price match Amazon, have your employees clearly trained on what to say.
I teach providers what I call the one-hour photo strategy. Remember when we actually used to develop photos? You could pay a premium to leave the grocery store with your photos in hand that day, or be rewarded with a lower price if you were willing to wait a few days. This is a great model to apply to your HME business, as I’m a firm believer that patients will pay a little more for immediate availability.
I encourage HME stores to offer the option of price matching Amazon and other online retailers, but also to match their delivery speed when they do this. This will present the customer with a clear choice. Do they want to pay a slightly higher price and leave with their item in hand—with the added benefits of it being assembled, fitted, demonstrated, etc.—or would they like to wait a few days for your driver to drop it off at their home in a box? This kills two birds with one stone. First, your staff has a definite policy to follow when customers ask this question. Second, it puts the patient in the driver’s seat, allowing them to make the decision on what is most important to them. We’ve all heard the old saying: You can have it good, fast or cheap—but you can’t have all three!
2. Highlight your expertise.
A huge advantage you offer over online retailers is your expertise. You actually know the difference between a K1 and a K3 wheelchair. You work with the patient’s physicians to ensure optimal clinical results. You have specialists on staff to be certain customers are fitted correctly for items like compression hosiery, incontinence products and mobility equipment. You have a phone number a patient’s family can call if there is ever a problem with the piece of equipment that was purchased. Have you ever tried calling Amazon? These are all valuable services you should be highlighting in your marketing materials to clearly differentiate yourself in the marketplace.
3. Become the first choice of your referral sources.
One of the most effective ways to compete against online retailers is to ensure that your referral sources are driving traffic to your store instead of to Amazon’s website. Are you engaging them regularly to ensure they know all of the goods, services and solutions you can provide to their patients? Remember that their main goal is to get the products they recommend to their patients quickly. This is where HME companies can really stand out from the pack by providing rapid delivery within the local communities they serve.
4. Offer reimbursement assistance.
Amazon does not bill insurance. This is a key advantage you have as an HME provider. You will be able to offer a blended solution of products that you can process reimbursement claims on, as well as cross-selling cash-and-carry options for folks who either don’t want to worry about paperwork or who simply want the best money can buy for their loved ones.
5. Emphasize the personal touch in patient assessments.
There is no denying that Amazon is one of the easiest websites to order from on a mobile device, but they do not offer patient assessments. Your staff can visit with a patient and their family members face-to-face to discuss their medical supply and equipment needs. This method of consultative selling enforces that you are more than just a website selling products. You are a local service provider there to help their family member experience the highest quality of life possible.
As you can see, there are several tactics you can employ to successfully compete against Amazon as an HME provider. Focus on building your value message around all the services you provide that Amazon does not. This should be front and center on all of your marketing collateral, website and social media messaging. What makes you different? What makes you better? What makes you unique? When you know the answers to these questions, all of a sudden you are not competing with Amazon on price—you are just competing with them. And you will have a lot of wins!
Did you know?
- In 2018, Amazon held a 49% share of United States e-commerce and accounted for 5% of all retail spend
- Nine out of 10 consumers price check a product on Amazon
- 95 million people have Amazon Prime memberships in the U.S.
- More than 50% of all Amazon sales come from third-party sellers
- Health care supplies sold on Amazon totaled $2.10 billion in 2017
- Amazon accounts for about 35% of all online health care supplies sales