Empowerment through e-commerce: the value of online marketplaces

Rohit Patni, CEO and co-founder of Lavanya Plus, the company behind WeMa Life, explains how e-commerce is transforming healthcare 

When people hear the term e-commerce, their minds often jump to likes of eBay and Amazon: the behemoths of selling products via the Internet. But of course this word, now part of our common lexicon, extends far beyond blue chip online retailers to encompass all manner of different industries.

Importantly, as well as enabling consumers to shop for products with greater ease and convenience, the unrelenting rise of online marketplaces is also playing a significant role in transforming sectors that have long been blighted by slow, opaque and cumbersome offline processes.

The care sector offers a perfect example of this. And one cannot underestimate the value of technological disruption – and in particular the adoption of e-commerce models – in helping the care industry progress, to the benefit of both patients and service providers.

Buyers need choice

Whether a consumer or a CEO, choice is absolutely essential when looking to purchase any product or service. Without it, an individual is hamstrung; they are forced to spend their money with a business regardless of its apparent quality and pricing, or they must abandon the purchase altogether, which is not an option when the product or service in question is essential.

In other words, when choice does not exist for a buyer, their power is diminished. And in the case of industries such as healthcare – albeit where it’s crude to consider a patient as a buyer – this issue becomes particularly pronounced. Without a selection of different service providers to pick from, a patient can easily end up paying too much money to a sub-standard business, and perhaps even one that does not specialise in the particular type of care required.  

As one of many industries filled with a huge number of small businesses that lack a strong web presence, the task of researching and choosing a care provider can be extremely difficult. In fact, Lavanya Plus – which launched its own care, health and wellbeing marketplace WeMa Life in February 2018 – commissioned independent research at the start of the year, finding that 46% of people who require care service find it difficult and stressful to locate the support they need.

Online marketplaces such as WeMa Life stand to change this, and thankfully the rise of HealthTech is seeing more companies now offering digital platforms for people to procure care, health and wellbeing services. As has been witnessed in many sectors over recent years, by bringing together a range of different competing businesses on one e-commerce platform, the buyer is empowered; they can easily and quickly browse between different service providers, compare costs, read reviews and assess the best option for them. What’s more, they can then make payments and monitor the delivery of their services all in one place.

In our day-to-day lives, both this level of choice and the use of technology can easily be taken for granted. Yet in many older, more traditional industries – like healthcare – the adoption of online marketplaces and e-commerce platforms is only just starting to take hold.

Benefiting businesses

Importantly, it is not just the buyers who stand to benefit from online marketplaces. The service providers themselves can also use third party e-commerce websites to help fuel commercial growth.

From sole traders and startups to agencies and established SMEs, customer acquisition is fundamental to any business’ growth. And service providers must find ways to connect with new prospective clients all the time if they are to increase turnover.

While it sounds straightforward, this is a huge challenge for many companies. And to return to the care sector, there are many firms that simply lack the online presence and marketing know-how to overcome this problem – the same can be said about many verticals that play host to small businesses who, regardless of their competency in delivering a great service, struggle to reach out to a wider customer base.

Again, online marketplaces provide a viable solution. With third parties now investing in the technology and marketing to draw potential customers to their platform to procure products or services, the providers themselves can benefit by ensuring they have a presence within the marketplace.

Take the example of a sole trader providing private domiciliary care to the elderly. The only way they may be able to find new patients to care for is by word of mouth, meaning they struggle to secure enough business to ever grow their one-person operation. Yet by listing on an online marketplace they can reach entirely new communities of prospective patients. What’s more, they can also rely on these e-commerce platforms to enable them to take online payments and efficiently managing their schedule.

So while it may seem odd to some that even in 2018 we must stop to acknowledge the positive role of e-commerce, it is vital that we do not take such technological progress as a given. Some industries are still much earlier in their journey to embrace digital solutions and online marketplaces – the sooner they do, the sooner both the buyer and the seller will stand to benefit.