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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Shipping and Sales Tax
An easy-to-use checkout process is also important. “Make sure your platform will give customers tracking numbers, allow them to view their order status and notify them when the order ships,” Smith advises.
You will need to decide how you want to charge for shipping. Smith recommends offering free shipping or a flat shipping rate for all orders. You can also entice shoppers to buy more with “threshold shipping,” in which orders over a certain dollar amount ship for free. Regardless of which option you choose, let customers know upfront how much shipping will cost them.
SkinCare Physicians’ e-commerce platform automatically calculates shipping costs and shipping labels, saving office staff time and minimizing manual errors. “After a customer orders a product and their payment clears, a staff member pulls, packs and ships the products,” says Foley. “Nowadays, consumers expect online orders to be expedited, so we added a note regarding our one-to-two day processing time.”
If you carry brand name product lines, you may be able to set up shipping through the manufacturer, but the practices we spoke with prefer and recommend in-house inventory and shipping. “We want the products to be packed properly so they don’t get damaged, and we want them to get to patients in a timely fashion, which we can control if we do it ourselves,” says Dr. Mauricio. “But as the website becomes busier, we may need to outsource this or work with manufacturers for drop shipping.”
Online retailers must also collect—and pay—sales tax. Amaral recommends a service called TaxJar that not only calculates the appropriate tax depending on where an item is being shipped, but also helps the merchant file and pay the taxes.
In addition to the standard features that all e-commerce sites need—CMS, shipping fees, tax calculator, discount codes and reporting capabilities—there are several advanced features to consider.
WooCommerce offers Social Rebate, a plug-in that gives customers a discount if they share their purchases on social media. Some platforms allow retailers to offer subscription-based ordering, so patients can authorize payment for and get re-orders shipped on a regular basis.
Other options include: “Wish list,” which lets shoppers save a product to consider later; live chat features so customers can ask questions—and get a quick response—as they shop; and instant search applications that provide “You may also like this product” recommendations based on shopper’s searches and product selections.
Testimonials and reviews are another important add-on. “Most online buyers at least look at a few reviews before committing to a purchase,” says Dr. Mauricio.
Each of these features will increase the cost, so it’s important to consider your target customer base as you design your site. SkinCare Physicians opted for a simple, basic site because it offers everything the practice needs. “Customers are mainly our patients who want to easily and conveniently re-order what their physician or esthetician has recommended,” says Foley. “The site is mobile-friendly, easy-to-use and allows patients to create a profile which saves them time when they return to order more. It does include a ‘related-items’ feature that entices patients to browse through complementary products.”
“There are a number of options and features to consider before getting started, but ultimately the success of your online store will hinge not on the technology you choose, but on your plan’s execution,” says Amaral. “Map out what success means to you and how you will get there; then look for solutions to accomplish it.”
Karen Appold is a medical writer based in Pennsylvania.
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