For nearly two decades, I have been working closely with HME providers to help them reach seniors and caregivers online, and for nearly two decades, I’ve been told by HME providers that their customers are not Internet-savvy, don’t purchase products online and certainly don’t look to the Web to find an HME business. About 10 years ago all that may have been true, but time has seen a gradual change in HME customers, caregivers and effective marketing as a whole. In a proprietary survey completed by a contracted independent third-party research group, 200 American family caregivers were asked about how they research medical products, what influences their medical product purchases, how they pay for the products, and how they prefer to be contacted regarding medical products. The survey analysis produced five major findings which explain the behavior of the family caregiver today, dispelling major industry myths HME business owners have previously believed about online marketing.
MYTH 1: My target audience isn’t online.
Findings from the survey revealed that an overwhelming 87 percent of caregivers looked to the Internet to research a medical product before purchasing. When asked how much research was done before selecting a medical product, the responses indicated 55 percent conducted moderate Internet research and 28 percent conducted extensive research.
The demographic targeted in this survey matches the demographic that most HME providers are trying to reach. Your target audience is clearly looking online for answers. So the question remains, will they reach your HME business while researching a medical product you happen to carry?
MYTH 2: I don’t sell online so I don’t need my products on my website.
While survey data reported that 54.8 percent of participants have never purchased a medical product or service online, 68 percent still research the medical product or medical company online before making an in-store purchase, a finding that is very similar to overall retail averages outside of the HME industry.
The connection between in-store sales and website traffic can be difficult to track. However, the answers received in the survey show that well over half of your customers would have researched a product online before purchasing it in your store. The trick here will be to become the resource that your target audience looks to when they are researching and staying relevant in a random search. Another interesting fact from this portion of the survey is that 79 percent of participants consider “education on products in order for them to make the best choice” as the single most important thing a medical equipment provider could offer them. When asked, “What is the best way to educate you on medical supplies and equipment?” 50 percent of participants look to the company website. Are you providing the information they want?
MYTH 3: My customers won’t pay cash for products not covered by insurance.
In fact, 87.8 percent of the survey participants are willing to spend money out-of-pocket on medical supplies, and more than half already currently spend money out-of-pocket for items not covered by insurance. We also asked how much participants are willing to spend out-of-pocket. A whopping 40 percent said they would spend $100-$1,000 out-of-pocket.
What does this mean for you? If you believe the HME industry is headed in the direction of less insurance coverage and more cash sales, as many industry experts do, you may want to focus more efforts on possible e-commerce solutions.
MYTH 4: My product is so great; I don’t need reviews or a low price.
When asked, “When purchasing online, what influences your purchase the most?” an overwhelming 73 percent of participants chose reputation and credibility of store, with lowest price coming in second place.
It takes time and effort to appear reliable and credible online. Many believe traditional customer service comes through in all mediums, which isn’t always the case. The best way to prove credibility is through reviews, so find a way to collect product and company reviews, then display them proudly on your website.
MYTH 5: My customers prefer I contact them by phone about products that may help them.
This myth goes hand in hand with the very first myth listed in this article—that HME customers are not online and prefer a real voice over the phone to online research—and couldn’t be farther from the truth. The survey asked participants what type of advertising they would most likely respond to for a medical supply or service. Twenty-six percent said they prefer Internet, while 21 percent respond to TV ads and 17 percent are partial to medical blogs.
As this survey states, most customers prefer Internet ads. Start looking at how Google AdWords could get your company ads out in front of HME prospects. If feasible, medical blogs are also a great place to start to develop your online presence. While the individual findings in this study may seem minor, they collectively show a major opportunity for HME providers today. Odds are, you and your competition are not dedicating enough time to your online presence and will pay for it in the long run. Caregivers are looking online first before purchasing, are willing to pay up to $1000 out-of-pocket and prefer Internet advertising over all other mediums. Will they find your business online? Will they see your website as a valuable resource and will they view your company as credible online?