Customers can get coupon crazy, providers say

Friday, May 23, 2014

Provider David Gordon opened a new retail location in October and has been using a 15% discount to get people into the store. But it’s what happens when they come through the door that’s proven challenging, he says.

“Everyone is very coupon and discount oriented,” said Gordon, a partner with Home Medical Supply Depot in Monroe, N.J. “They want the coupon they forgot at home, they want the senior discount, and then they ask what else I can do for them. They are a rough crowd.”

Add military and professional discounts to the list, says provider Tom Gosselin, who tries to accommodate requests where he can.

“When people ask, we are generous at the counter,” said Gosselin, purchaser and manager at Black Bear Home Medical in Portland, Maine. “It’s easy enough to give 10% off if someone asks. It’s not policy, because then we would have to ask everybody if they were a senior, so then you are looking for a reason to give somebody a discount.”

Black Bear doesn’t offer discounts on products that are already on sale or billed through insurance. When the provider advertises a sale on certain products, they make it worthwhile for customers—and themselves.

“Advertising costs a lot so you’ve got to reel them in with big discounts,” said Gosselin. “We’ll do 25% up to 50% off. On bigger items like lift chairs, we’ll do $100 off.”

Other providers say they’ve done away with discounts. Brent Bradshaw used to offer both senior and professional discounts of 10% but got tired of inflating the price just to give people a “discount.” 

“I just said the heck with it,” said Bradshaw, president of Durable Medical Equipment in Austin, Texas. “Now, on our price tag, we’ll show the list price and our price.”

Unfortunately, reimbursement pressures continue to squeeze providers just when consumers themselves are feeling squeezed, they say.

“No one ever wants to pay for healthcare and as more insurance companies pay for less, that shifts the burden right to the consumer,” said Chris Monroe, president of Family Medical Equipment and Supply in Peoria, Ill. “We abandoned our membership club two years ago because we couldn’t afford to keep giving discounts away.”