BLOG: Lessons from the retail world can jump-start your consumer-driven strategies


Best practices from the retail sector that can help plans revitalize their consumer relationships.


You don’t have to look far to see examples of how the U.S. retail industry is driving the healthcare sector to be more consumer-centric. In fact, some health plans are already using these strategies-whether it’s an integrated branding campaign or customer engagement tactics. Here are four best practices that innovative health plans can borrow (or, in some cases, continue to borrow) from the retail sector to help revitalize their relationships with consumers.

  • Health plans need to be savvy about building their brand with consumers. Cigna’s “Go You” and United Health’s “Know Your Numbers” are examples of branding campaigns that are consumer-facing and intended to resonate with target markets. Companies from Proctor and Gamble to Target know that consumers own their brand. Health plans are learning that as well.

  • Several health plans have deployed an integrated brick-and-mortar strategy. They may not call it that, but just as retailers have an online presence and a physical location, health plans such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida are using physical stores as a venue for people to learn more about their health plan options. Retailers have found that an integrated strategy can increase sales and customer loyalty, and they are less concerned with consumers using the physical store to make purchases at that site. They’re also using increasingly sophisticated tools to track and maximize customer activity. Other health plans should (and will) move in that direction, too.

  • There are areas where we are still falling short in healthcare as a whole. My favorite is the persistent challenge with transparency in cost and quality. We all know that in the retail sector, consumers are able to be effective shoppers because they can have enough information about cost and quality to make tradeoffs that work for them. Information asymmetry-the lack of balance between what buyers and sellers-has lessened in complex areas like mortgages and cars. Sites such as and are examples of ways information gaps are balanced. Health plans (and our entire industry for that matter) can learn from these sites.

  • Another way the healthcare sector can benefit from other consumer-driven industries is in how we engage our customers. One health plan confessed that 90% of its members received only one communication: their membership card when the initial coverage began. Another missed opportunity: the amount of time it takes for a plan to contact a member once it is clear the member may need additional help or information. As a personal example, I received the first call from my health plan three weeks after I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. By that time, I had already scheduled my surgery and made an appointment with an oncologist. In contrast, consider all the attention you get when you sign up for a new credit card. They know you have a choice every time you open your wallet, and they want to make sure their card is the one you reach for first. As a result, they stay well connected to you throughout the total relationship (welcome kits, reward redemption emails, etc.)-not just at the point of enrollment.

In the healthcare industry, we’ve long been aware of our shortcomings-and while we’ve made strides to close the gaps, the gaps still persist between a consumer orientation in the health insurance arena and other facets of our lives. But now, in addition to changing market dynamics, there are a number of new, innovative players emerging that are not encumbered by legacy systems and old thinking, and have clearly learned from retailers. Two of the new players-Wello and Greatist-are fun, engaging sites that have attracted big followings in a short amount of time.

Wello and Greatist are noteworthy examples of health companies that leverage technology and focus on what their audience needs and wants-similar to the retail sector’s approach. The good news is that health plans have a terrific opportunity to partner with companies like these to jump-start or expand their own efforts with member engagement. That’s a good strategy if the alternative is being marginalized in this dynamic environment. 

Ann Mond Johnson serves as chairman of the Board of Managers of ConnectedHealth. 

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