Bringing E-Commerce to Medical Products (And Everything Else)

Learn how a dedicated e-commerce resource can bring e-commerce to medical equipment.
  • Successful medical equipment e-commerce websites require careful planning and deliberate strategies before launching.

  • Implementing an effective e-commerce strategy can help medical companies disrupt a largely stale industry, as evidenced by 1-800 Contacts and Alpaca Audiology.

  • A dedicated e-commerce resource from fabric digital services can help navigate, build-out, and implement a meaningful medical e-commerce strategy.

The healthcare industry is shifting to digital, driven, in part, by COVID-19 and its lasting ramifications. 74% of healthcare executives report a high likelihood of investing in or expanding the use of patient access technology, with the medical e-commerce market growing at a record CAGR of nearly 17.1% between 2021 and 2028.

E-commerce medical supplies sales in the U.S. peaked during 2020 and 2021 — during the height of the pandemic — but are expected to maintain around 10% growth YOY until 2025, at least. Similarly, online sales of drugs, health, and beauty supplies continue to trend upwards.

As the healthcare industry continues to evolve and transform — prompting increased adoption of medical technologies like wearables — e-commerce giants are entering the fray.

Amazon, a behemoth not known for healthcare or pharmaceuticals, initially purchased PillPack, an online pharmacy, in 2018. This was followed by Amazon’s 2019 acquisition of Health Navigator, which became part of Amazon Care.

Amazon’s pivot to medical e-commerce and healthcare — emphasized by the launch of Amazon Pharmacy in 2020 — highlights a chasm that traditional healthcare and pharmaceutical companies must bridge. However, this demonstrates that medical equipment e-commerce websites still have the opportunity to tap into and capitalize on this nascent and growing market.

But given that even Amazon is facing difficulties — and unconventional competitors — in disrupting the market, how can smaller medical e-commerce companies find success?

How Can Medical E-Commerce Companies Transition Online?

Transitioning from a traditional retail model requires more than simply digitizing your existing processes. Doing so runs the risk of copying your inefficiencies over to the digital model even if you end up improving areas you’re already doing well in.

Stary by developing a long-term strategy that outlines a more holistic way of launching a medical equipment e-commerce website. Your strategy should identify how you can leverage technology to evolve and adapt your processes and offers.

At the same time, understand that technology alone doesn’t guarantee success — it needs to provide genuine value that fulfills customers’ unmet needs. After all, it’s this goal that has even e-commerce giants like Amazon fighting to take control of untapped segments of the market, and it’s where your company can excel, too.

However, this juncture isn’t one you should approach without outside help. Because the switch from traditional retail to medical e-commerce is complex and can exacerbate current issues, consider working with specialists that can help you identify and implement effective solutions.

For example, consider a brand seeking to enter the medical B2B e-commerce space but struggling with how to manage inventory. Though it’s possible to devise a system that works — or to transpose an existing system into an e-commerce framework — your dedicated e-commerce resource is more familiar with tried-and-proven software.

Based on your needs and challenges, your dedicated e-commerce resource may recommend products like:

  • fabric Marketplace, which enables brands to sell a wide variety of products from multiple suppliers, without carrying inventory.
  • fabric OMS, which provides multichannel support for the brand’s inventory and lets customers track orders throughout the process.
  • fabric PIM, which maintains a central source of product data and information to ensure consistency across multiple channels.
  • Versatile e-commerce APIs expand functionality by adding utilities such as a shopping cart or checkout.

Such recommendations can save you time and avoid incurring a costly technical debt, helping you remain focused on the big picture of implementing an e-commerce strategy without getting bogged down in a rigid or monolithic framework.

How new retailers can launch a medical e-commerce website

A newcomer to the medical e-commerce space might start out with a basic approach using:

  • fabric XM as a headless CMS that enables you to manage the customer experience across sales channels
  • fabric OMS to manage inventory and orders across channels
  • fabric PIM to maintain consistent data and information

This trifecta provides new retailers with what amounts to a tech “starter pack,” helping them establish a framework through which they can begin selling. More importantly, this type of flexible approach supports the ability to scale: as the brand grows, it can add on new modules and functionality to further enhance the customer experience and its sales abilities.

For example, a medical e-commerce website can add a loyalty program via fabric Members, incentivizing and rewarding repeat customers as brand recognition grows. It can also create promotions through fabric Offers to introduce conditional pricing and exciting sales.

Using flexible headless architecture lets new retailers introduce these elements without costly and lengthy development time, capitalizing on — and prolonging — periods of high growth and success.

Example #1: 1-800 Contacts

1-800 Contacts launched in a dorm room in 1995, solidifying itself as the first e-commerce company to sell contacts online. Since then, 1-800 Contacts has leveraged personalization and pioneered support for evolving medical technologies, such as telehealth — a service it began offering itself via ExpressExam.

These initiatives exemplify the retailer’s customer- and digital-first focus. By prioritizing e-commerce, 1-800 Contacts was able to disrupt the medical industry, helping customers “skip the doctor’s office” and receive doctor-issued prescriptions. Digitizing this experience enabled the retailer’s use of the information gathered via ExpressExam to let customers quickly and easily buy the medical products that are right for them.

In late 2020, 1-800 Contacts was acquired by KRR & Co. Inc. due, in part, to the former’s embrace of telemedicine and sweetened by 1-800 Contacts’ “roughly 100% year-over-year increases in new customers and repeat customers” as a result of its response to COVID-19.

The sweeping success of its B2C medical e-commerce — and its position as the first retailer to enter the opportunity space — let 1-800 Contacts expand into the B2B industry via Luna Solutions. Luna Solutions, which launched in January 2022, is a separate business under common ownership of 1-800 Contacts, operating as a B2B services and technology platform for other companies in the vision care industry.

This expansion into a new space emphasizes how medical e-commerce is a viable and winning strategy for established retailers — like 1-800 Contacts and Amazon — and new brands alike, fusing telehealth, virtual try-on functionality, order fulfillment, and more to further transform and revolutionize the healthcare industry.

An overview of the 1-800 Contacts medical e-commerce website, spotlighting products covered by the retailer and providing quick access to find or reorder contacts.

An overview of ExpressExam, a telehealth service that provides customers with affordable and convenient access to a virtual eye exam and doctor-issued prescriptions.

Example #2: Alpaca Audiology

Founded in 2011, Alpaca Audiology is part of Sonova Audiological Care, a global clinical network that strives for exceptional experiences in hearing healthcare. It has a footprint of over 500 clinics across the country.

Alpaca is known as an early leader in the digital transformation of audiological care services. It combined in-person and virtual care, improving patient access to product offerings and services across its network of locations. As part of Sonova Audiological Care, they are now part of the largest audiological care market in the world.

It was important for the consumer experience to be different and better than what was currently available in the hearing industry.

Brian Venuti, U.S. Marketing and E-Commerce at Sonova.

Even though e-commerce was the focus, it was important to complement and support the brick-and-mortar business. fabric became the clear partner of choice as the frontend and backend requirements were decided.

fabric expert guidance from e-commerce veterans

fabric provides brands with scalable solutions to unlock e-commerce growth, enhance digital strategy, and expedite time to value with Product Management-as-a-Service. The team is stacked with industry veterans across product management and technical development with decades of experience guiding businesses through all stages of growth.

With the help of fabric, Alpaca implemented an “e-commerce-in-a-box” solution, or fabric Commerce Platform, which provided a quicker time to value for their customers. Equipped with powerful products like XM, Storefront, PIM, Offers, Cart & Checkout, and OMS, the company launched its new SoundBe e-commerce website, which sells a highly-curated assortment of state-of-the-art hearing accessories, including noise-canceling headphones and smart controlled earbuds.

A dedicated e-commerce resource like fabric, helped Alpaca bring medical equipment to e-commerce.

One of the biggest benefits of working with a dedicated e-commerce resource was the high-level advisory services Alpaca’s team received, which involved critical training on the processes required to stand up their e-commerce program.

Combined with advanced product training, the company could lay the foundation for hiring a team to support the initiative once fidelity was proven. fabric also provided a wealth of deliverables that expedited Alpaca’s storefront launch, including competitive landscape analysis, customer journey roadmaps and workflows, storefront wireframes, and mapping site integrations.

Today, fabric is working with Alpaca on 12 regional hearing services sites that are expected to launch throughout 2022 and 2023. Our fabric products and services let companies like Alpaca seize massive success and opportunity by bringing e-commerce to medical equipment (and everything else).

Topics: Commerce
Tori Matthews

Product manager @ fabric. Previously program manager @ ZYLTER. MS in Applied Biomedical Engineering.

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