Loyalists vs. Shoppers: Healthcare Lessons from Retail Consumers

Apr 29, 2024 | Kate Domin - Doximity Marketing Manager

Retail has taught consumers how to shop. Consumers are accustomed to digital access, varied options, and seamless shopping experiences. And, while it can be easy to think of patients seeking healthcare as very distinct from retail consumers, there is a heavy influence from the consumer shopping model that impacts how patients make care decisions. Understanding how patients search and “shop” for care is fundamental to reaching patients where they are. 

Retail consumers fall into two primary categories: brand loyalists and shoppers. Brand loyalists start and end their journey on a brand’s site. For example, a loyal Marriott customer has a vacation coming up. They’re going to head straight to Marriott’s website, sign into their rewards account, and choose between an option set within the brand portfolio. Marriott has cultivated this brand loyalty, and the consumer now experiences a streamlined decision-making process. Brand loyalty pays off. In fact, the vast majority of rooms booked on are from loyalty members. Hospitals and healthcare systems can cultivate similar brand loyalty through brand awareness campaigns and providing a positive patient experience. However, only 20% of patients begin their search on a hospital website, and more than half of patients will make a healthcare decision without consulting a hospital website.

The majority of healthcare consumers operate more like shoppers. Shoppers don’t have a default brand in mind. They turn to broad search results and third-party validation sites to compare options across brands, considering specific factors, including price. Following the hospitality example, shoppers use sites like Expedia and Travelocity to explore all of their options, filtering by location, room type, amenities, ratings, and price. On Expedia, the majority of Marriott rooms booked are from new customers. Marriott understands this dynamic and participates in this marketplace because it’s an opportunity to capture shoppers as new customers and possibly convert them into loyalists. 

Patients search in the same way. Over 80% of patients who search online will consult two or more websites: they’re considering location, insurance, hospital brand identity, patient reviews, and physician referrals. To reach both loyalists and shoppers, hospitals need to adopt a multi-touch digital strategy that makes it easy for patients to take action. And, it’s not only the searching and vetting process that happens on these sites. Consumers don’t exclusively search on Expedia—they book there, too. Patients are used to this straightforward booking process. It’s important to highlight your hospital and physicians on trusted, high-visibility sites that provide seamless booking. 

U.S. News has been a leading provider of consumer advice across industries for decades. It’s a trusted third-party search site with over 118 million healthcare visitors each year. With Patient Connect from Doximity, you can facilitate that shopper experience by highlighting your hospital brand and physicians and directing patients to book appointments with one click. Learn more about how Patient Connect works here