THE INTERNET HAS changed the way people shop. Today, consumers go online to purchase everything from clothes to cars and even movie tickets. If your practice retails skincare products, adding online ordering to your website can expand your audience, build sales, and improve the patient experience by providing a convenient way to browse and purchase products. The key is to determine what you hope to accomplish with your e-commerce site and incorporate the right features to help you reach those goals.
At SkinCare Physicians in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, patients wanted the convenience of being able to order their homecare products online. The practice’s e-commerce site has proven to be a win-win. “A patient can pick up a sample during an office visit, and then decide whether or not she wants to purchase the product without having to later drive back to the practice. It has increased sales volume, revenue and patient satisfaction,” says Christine E. Foley, chief operating officer at SkinCare Physicians.
Plus, the practice rakes in profits even when the office is closed. “Nearly 25% of our online orders are placed on weekends,” says Foley. An additional benefit has been the platforms reporting capabilities that allow the practice to create and export detailed reports, and analyze its online sales.
While online ordering is first and foremost a way to make purchasing more convenient for your existing patient base, it can also help attract consumers from outside of your region. Tess Mauricio, MD, FAAD, founder of M Beauty by Dr. Tess clinics in Beverly Hills and San Diego, California, has been able to capitalize on her media appearances and large social media following through her e-commerce site. “Demand from outside California increased after my appearances on Dr. Phil and The Talk,” she says. “We are able reach many more people outside our geographic area by having an online platform.”
Getting Started With e-Commerce
Creating and maintaining an e-commerce site is no small venture. “It can become very fancy and expensive,” says Dr. Mauricio.
Adding a platform to your website will cost between $5,000 for a bare-bones version and $50,000 for a platform with all the bells and whistles. There can also be additional costs for a web designer to maintain your site, and practices will need staff members to handle inventory, packing and shipping of products. Dr. Mauricio recommends that practice owners start the process by researching existing e-stores and use that research to determine the look, feel and capabilities they want for their sites.
Keep in mind that even if you hire a professional website designer to manage the site, you will still play an integral role in the process. “You have to select products and provide product descriptions and professional images to your website designer,” says Justin Smith, CEO of Outerbox, a web design and e-commerce company in Akron, Ohio. “You also have to provide information about your company and make decisions regarding shipping policies and promotions.”
Cheryl Lee Eberting, MD, a Utah-based dermatologist who markets and sells her CherylLeeMD Sensitive Skin Care product line on AZOVA, an e-commerce platform that she developed, points out that practices will need operational resources in place before the site launches. For example, healthcare providers and staff members need to be trained and ready to ship products promptly, manage inventory, launch marketing programs, and respond to shoppers’ queries and complaints.
“Staying organized and on top of all of the moving parts is essential to ensure high patient satisfaction and profitability,” agrees Foley.
To make the site a success, Dr. Mauricio recommends working with professionals to create a digital marketing strategy. “Work with experts in digital marketing who can help you create traffic for your online store,” she says.
Choosing Your Features
The first step in adding online sales is selecting a platform and the features you would like included. If you are already working with a professional web design and marketing firm, it can help you build your platform. If you are maintaining your own website, there are several e-commerce solution providers to investigate.
“Square Up, Shopify, WooCommerce, and a host of other online merchant companies provide easy-to-implement solutions that make it easy to manage an online store,” says Joe Amaral, operations manager of Crystal Clear Digital Marketing in Orlando, Florida. “These software programs ensure an aesthetically pleasing site and offer a variety of options and features to help you effectively implement online sales.”
There are some basic, standard features to consider. First, you will need an online merchant account so you can accept credit card payments. You can likely add to this to your practice’s existing merchant account or work with an online merchant account provider. Make sure the platform you choose is secure and offers encryption technology to protect your customers’ credit card data.
Look for an e-commerce solution that includes a Content Management System (CMS). This allows you and your staff to add product images and descriptions, create discount codes and manage pricing.
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