Amazon makes play for HME market
YARMOUTH, Maine – While Amazon.com’s announcement in April that it has launched an online health store targeting older consumers wasn’t met with cheers by HME providers, they say they’ll hold their own against the retail giant.
“The big get bigger, but if we’re good at what we are doing, we should continue to have a good business,” said Adrian Ioja, general manager at Huntington, Calif.-based DMES. “They will sell the stuff that is commodities, but the stuff where you call with a question and get samples—it’s going to be harder for them.”
The products themselves—incontinence supplies, daily living and mobility aids, diabetes management items—are not new to Amazon. Instead, the company is grouping them under one banner, 50+ Active and Healthy Living, and has added content sourced from grandparents.com.
With an estimated 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, it makes sense for Amazon to go after the senior market, especially with all the paperwork required by Medicare and other insurers driving consumers to pay out of pocket, say providers.
“A lot of beneficiaries that can afford it don’t want to navigate the system,” said Britt Peterson, founder and CEO of Austin, Texas-based Longhorn Health Solutions. “And, all the things we have to do, like set up and maintain the equipment and not charge shipping, Amazon doesn’t have to do any of that. They are just shipping.”
Provider Tom Wilson, himself a fan of Amazon, points to several shortcomings of the online retailer’s latest venture.
“Amazon is not simple and not easy to understand and navigate,” said Wilson, president of The CareGiver Partnership in Neenah, Wis. “It’s also funny. Type ‘Depends’ into the site and you are going to have the option of having it giftwrapped.”
And, when it comes to customer service, there’s no question HME providers have Amazon beat.
“A lot of consumers want to talk to human beings on the phone,” said Wilson. “It’s pretty hard to find a phone number at Amazon.”
At the end of the day, there’s plenty of business to go around for everyone, say providers.
“Amazon sells everything, but there are still people selling apparel, there are still people selling electronics,” said Meir Tsinman, president of themedicalsupplydepot.com. “It’s just a different business model than what we have.”