Consumers openly price-shopping

Sunday, September 25, 2011

YARMOUTH, Maine - Internet competition is nothing new for brick-and-mortar HME providers, but consumers seem to be getting more aggressive when it comes to price shopping, they say.

"It's very brazen," said Steve Ackerman, owner of Spectrum Medical in Silver Springs, Md. "People will come in and whip their iPhone out and check it while you are talking to them in the showroom."

Most providers can spot "price sensitive" consumers a mile away. They come in with specific model numbers in mind and the features they want.

"I had one woman who knew exactly the kind of blood pressure monitor she wanted," said Seth Auerbach, president of Komfort & Kare Home Medical Equipment & Supplies in Westmont, N.J. "She came in and asked one of us to teach how her how to use it. Then she left and bought it on Amazon."

While shopping online for items like incontinence supplies might make sense, many consumers are also pricing more service-intensive items like scooters and lift chairs.

Let the buyer beware, however, says Ackerman.

"We are not repairing anything that hasn't been purchased here," he said. "It really puts us in an awkward position. We have to be bad guys to people that have been long-term customers."

A focus on customer service is the best way to combat price shopping, says Lelia Wilkerson, director of Heritage Medical in Burlington, Iowa.

"When somebody says, 'I saw this price on the Internet,' our employees are trained to tell them, 'You can buy it on the Internet, but when you have trouble, the Internet isn't going to be there to help. They aren't going to fit you for it, or educate you,'" she said. "It's a really nice way to show the positives of buying locally."