Problem Solvers

Creating the Retail Experience

How providers can leverage the retail team and merchandising to keep customers engaged.

For several years, providers have been rapidly pushing into retail sales. As competitive bidding has become increasingly “real” as Round Two is approaching a re-compete and CMS has announced it would take bid prices national by 2016, providers have paid similarly increasing attention to retail sales. Many providers are now seeing retail sales not as a bonus, but as a business imperative. Simply put, it drives new, desperately needed revenues that can help compensate for the cash flow cuts caused by constantly dwindling Medicare reimbursement.

But as provider interest in cash sales is felt industry-wide, many providers are new to the cash sales game and must surmount a respectable learning curve when it comes to understanding the various of retail sales, as well as a bit of a mild “culture shock” when it comes to how running a retail-savvy business can differ from a reimbursement-focal business.

And retail does have a culture. Just consider how different stepping into a standard retail store feels from stepping into a typical provider showroom. That difference needs to be eradicated in order for a provider to cement its cash sales success.

The difference comes down to feel — providers need to learn is how they can create “retail experience” for customers and patients. When clients come to the providers’ retail location with cash sales in mind, they are expecting an experience that differs from that of a funded patient. A funded patient comes to the provider with a prescription and set expectations. A cash sales customer is looking for options, information and a range of solutions that can help make an informed purchase. Here are some key ways to create that retail experience:

Staff Must Adopt a Sales Approach

Sales is a somewhat unfamiliar concept for HME provider businesses and their staff. It is too often unfairly viewed as trying to get the patient to buy something he or she doesn’t need. That is simply not the case. Selling, if anything, is the art of consulting with the customer. If staff can work with a client to better understand his or her needs, then staff can present the best solution for their needs. If management and staff can adopt that frame of mind, then they can position themselves for sales success.

Instill Deep Product Knowledge

In the same way HME staff must understand their patients’ needs, they must also understand all the product options available so that they can provide expert advice and steer them toward a solution from which the patients will benefit and find value. This has multiple, lasting benefits. For starters, those patients will remember the satisfaction they derived from their experience and will return to that HME when they need something else. They will also tell their friends. And even if the HME provider and its staff aren’t able to make every sale, they will still establish the business as the best expert resource in its market place.

Display Product in Ways that Attract and Engage

Putting product on the floor is less about organization and more about presentation. Products must be “showcased” in ways that engage the clients. Retail clients need to see how the product looks, how it works and want to be able to interact with it so that they can see how the product will benefit them. A great way to accomplish this is to display items in such a way that they look like a room from any home. This prompts the patients and their families and caregivers to start thinking about how DME and related cash products would look in their homes.

Use Point-of-Purchase Displays

There is a reason many stores place “impulse” buys near the cash register — they know that customers will browse those displays while waiting to be rung up, and perhaps add them to their basket. In the case of HME, display these products in such a way that doesn’t just display the product, but helps educate the customer. Remember these are clients looking to make a smart, informed purchase.

Leverage the Power of Effective Signage

When customers enter the store, there is no possible way for them to be familiar with your inventory — even if they’re past customers. Use signs to attract buyers to new offerings; direct them to things they are looking for; and perhaps get them to consider goods they might not have had on their shopping list. Also, refresh your signage to drive continued customer interest. Consider changing things up seasonally or on special dates to highlight special offers and to create a fresh “feel” to the store through new signage.

Invest in Infrastructure

Any provider serious about creating a retail experience needs to be serious about investing in the tools that will accomplish that. This starts with point of sales systems. Providers want to have cash registers that can scan bar codes, process credit cards, debit cards and other forms of payment, and that are tied into the systems back office information technology. This will let the HME provider not only process retail sales transactions in a way that is familiar to the customers, but also let provider set up special pricing schemes and promotions for retail transactions, and correlate those exchanges to a patient’s overall history within the provider’s records.

Consider Offering Financing

Not all retails sales are small ticket, small margin items. Many retail sales items can translate into some rather sizable expenses for customers. Examples of higher priced products that attract cash sales customers would include auto access and home access items, and even funded items such as portable oxygen concentrators and mobility scooters that a patient or family member simply opt to purchase instead of fund. By providing consumer financing, providers can attract more clients to these items. Providers can partner up with a consumer financing company, which sometimes partner with DME manufacturers.

Ultimately, retail becomes a frame of mind, not just for the provider, but for its clients. Bearing that in mind, one of the most essential things a provider can do when moving into retail sales is to think like a customer. When a provider can start to understand their wants, needs and expectations, it can start understanding what will help generate a successful retail experience.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Kopf is the Publisher HME Business, DME Pharmacy and Mobility Management magazines. He was Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy from 2008 to 2023. Follow him on LinkedIn at and on Twitter at @postacutenews.

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