An online retail entrepreneur behind a number of successful e-commerce ventures has been able to expand his stake of the online mobility equipment market by making simple tweaks to his offering.
Ronan O’Brien, who founded online e-commerce hit, TheCostumeShop, launched a mobility concept seven years ago and has managed to build a profitable model in TheMobilityShop.
A key part of his strategy is tapping into the psychology of end-users and adjusting his offering accordingly.
O’Brien said: “Mobility aids by their definition are a sensitive area. People don’t want to be ‘wheelchair people’ and they don’t want to be Facebook friends with the company that sells them incontinence pants.
“What we noticed from digging into the data is that people start their decision journey thinking they want to rent a wheelchair. Psychologically, buying one means committing to being in a wheelchair indefinitely.
“So we added a rental section for wheelchairs and gave them that option. We also compare the price of buying versus renting and educate them on the difference. For example, in Ireland there is zero VAT on buying a wheelchair but 23% VAT on renting one, so it often works out more cost-effective to buy.
“But you need to engage with the customer’s buying journey and meet them at their level and perceived requirement. Often we’ll send out a brand new wheelchair or mobility scooter as a rental and the customer will end up buying or keeping the same unit.”
O’Brien said it is important to consider products when thinking about customer psychology. He drew on the example of Classic Canes’ walking stick umbrella, which he jokingly refers to as a ‘gateway drug’.
“Men in particular are slow to admit they would benefit from a mobility aid. This stylish umbrella is a functioning walking stick that doubles as an umbrella and is often given as a gift.
“While on the website, with this new change in perception, they start to ask what other little gadgets could make their life easier and so you build a relationship with the client as a trusted advisor.”
Online mobility retail is sometimes seen as a challenging sector to operate in given the thin margins resellers make on products like mobility scooters.
But O’Brien, who has several businesses within the e-commerce sector, said that TheMobilityShop’s e-commerce model is “very profitable”.
“Yes, the margins are low but you don’t have to use price as your only unique selling point. If you do run bricks and mortar stores the overheads are extremely high so you don’t have those costs to incur and pass on.
“Selling at the lowest price or below cost to win customers will always be a race to the bottom and there is always someone willing to sell cheaper.
“Because we already have the fixed costs covered with our other e–commerce businesses it means that costs are lower and the same person in the call centre can answer calls and be knowledgeable about products for more than one niche.
“Where people lose money in this industry is not knowing what they don’t know. They underspend on server optimisation which results in having to pay more to Google for a pay-per-click advert every time someone sees your adverts.
“They hire a web design company based on nice graphics or nice suits rather than their knowledge of the sector.”