In a Q&A, healthcare and ecommerce expert Justin Racine discusses how suppliers are dealing with the coronavirus outbreak in ways that can help them stand out in their industry.

Editor’s note: Given the intense complexity and regulatory nature of the industry, business-to-business healthcare is an ecommerce market that’s unlike any other. And these days in B2B healthcare ecommerce, it’s hardly business as usual.

And it won’t be business as normal anytime soon, as the fast-spreading and widely erratic nature of the coronavirus is putting the B2B healthcare ecommerce market into a state of flux and forcing companies of all sizes to cope with a range of problems that include supply chain disruption, decisions over who—and who doesn’t—get to purchase medical supplies and when and new logistic headaches in order processing, fulfillment and delivery.

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Justin Racine

In this question-and-answer column, Justin Racine, an experienced B2B digital healthcare executive and marketer with expertise in the long-term care facilities market and now senior ecommerce consultant with Perficient Digital, looks at some of the immediate challenges the coronavirus is raising for B2B healthcare ecommerce and how well companies are coping.

Q: The coronavirus is causing major disruption to U.S and international healthcare supply chains. What’s the immediate impact overall on the U.S. B2B ecommerce market?

Racine: From a healthcare supply and manufacturing perspective, the impact is immediate throughout the entire supply chain.

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Manufacturing companies can’t keep up with the demand, distributors are rushing to create workflows that attempt to mitigate customers from beefing up their supplies, and end users are in panic.

Q: What’s the long-term impact on U.S. B2B healthcare ecommerce and how do you define long-term?

Racine: Within the healthcare space, this outbreak for B2B distributors will build in workflows that allow them to restrict product quantities and frequency of ordering. In addition, the B2B users of these products (nurses, doctors, other providers) will also have to look at the clinical use of products and wherever possible attempt to reduce use.

Q: If the coronavirus epidemic grows even bigger and lasts longer, which distributors/wholesalers with a B2B site will be hardest hit? What about manufacturers?

Racine: It will hit really hard with companies that manufacture or distribute any sort of personal protection and disinfectant products.

There is already a shortage of items like medical gloves, face masks and other protective gear—this could possibly span further depending on what happens. B2B organizations in the healthcare space are already feeling this today, and it isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

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Distributors are being forced to pad their inventory and claw their way to the front of the line from the manufacturers to stock product and take care of their customer.

Q: What part of an organization’s b2b ecommerce operation are impacted most and why? Which ones the least?

Racine: As mentioned above, it’s really anyone and everyone. Delivery drivers will be forced to make emergency deliveries to customers who may be running low on products.

Purchasing associates are being forced to procure products wherever they can find them, and also keep up with usage and demand changes that isn’t typical to what they may be used to.

Sales and service associated are being looked upon to help their customers ration product and find creative ways of “doing more with less.”

Pricing and contract managers have to manage customer prices which are no doubt increasing dramatically.

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It’s times like these that distributors and manufacturers can really separate themselves from the Amazons of the world with their value-added services like same-day emergency product delivery, and sales and service people that actually will pick up the phone and answer their questions.

I’ve talked before about the changing role of the salesperson, and this situation speaks exactly to their value as their role has evolved.

Q: Is U.S. B2B healthcare ecommerce prepared for this sudden change?

Racine: In the healthcare space, organizations typically have disaster preparedness plans; however, the level and depth that these plans go to can be questionable.

Distributors typically always carry safety stock. But when something of this scale happens, it’s not just a question of buying more product, it’s a question of where can you put it. Distribution centers are only so large, and with thousands upon thousands of product bin locations within these centers, it makes it challenging to find space to hold extra product that these companies may need.

Q: What should healthcare buyers and sellers be proactively doing about all of this—and are they?

Racine: There is only so much that can be done. Everyone in the world is looking to procure these types of products currently, and that causes anxiety to all parties within the supply chain.

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I think distributors and manufacturers have to do what they can to help their customers. Looking at things like creating webinars or educational content on the proper way to ration hand sanitizer or soap. Providing sales and service avenues outside of normal business hours and finding ways to make emergency deliveries wherever possible.

This situation is unfortunate, there is no questioning that. But it also offers B2B organizations an opportunity to prove why they are so valuable to the customers that they serve through these “extra mile” efforts. Hopefully, these efforts will resonate with their customers and help to leverage their organization as a valuable resource.

Sign up for a complimentary subscription to Digital Commerce 360 B2B News, published 4x/week, covering technology and business trends in the growing B2B ecommerce industry. Contact Mark Brohan, vice president of B2B and Market Research Development, at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @markbrohan.

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