An online store made easy

Thursday, September 1, 2011

MUNDELEIN, Ill. - Are you an HME provider who wants to add an online store to your website but don't have the time or expertise? Medline Industries now has a plug-and-play program for providers that can have them up and running within three weeks.

More than 100 providers, with sights set on boosting cash sales, have signed up for the program since its June rollout, says David Jacobs, senior vice president of sales for Medline.

"We want to support our providers as they seek to diversify their revenue sources," he said. "We see this as a tremendous opportunity for providers. They have a very large patient base and they've developed strong reputations in the community as experts and service providers for these products."

Some of the logistics of the program: Providers choose from 64 templates and customize their stores with their logo and company information. They populate their stores with up to 2,000 products offered by Medline and products offered by other vendors (The only stipulation, Jacobs said: If they sell products from other vendors, they must also sell Medline's products in that category). They can also apply discount and other promotional features.

Medline doesn't charge a set-up fee, but it does charge a "low monthly fee" to maintain the online store, Jacobs said. It also charges providers a $9.95 shipping fee to drop-ship products from one of its 36 warehouses across the country directly to customers.

"The costs associated with being able to have a presence like this and conduct commerce like this have gone down dramatically," he said.

VGM Forbin, which designs and hosts websites for HME providers, has seen an increase in demand for online stores, says Jeremy Kauten, general manager.

"Not only that, we've seen a shift in demand for online stores for products covered by Medicare to online stores for strictly cash products, especially the more specialized products you can't find at Bed Bath & Beyond," he said.

A plug-and-play program like that offered by Medline has advantages (it means, for example, that providers don't have to worry about updating pricing and inventory, often a full-time job), but they still need a provider's attention in the form of paid listings on search engine websites and marketing campaigns to existing customers, Kauten said.

"It's not, 'Build it and they will come,'" he said.