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Price wars: It’s time to say ‘no’

Article-Price wars: It’s time to say ‘no’

Consumers looking for cosmetic procedures confirmed the power of price in a recent survey. Price ranked second among the top three most influential factors in consumers’ selection of physician, according to the ASDS 2015 consumer survey on cosmetic dermatologic procedures. Forty-five percent of consumers surveyed said price influenced their selection of cosmetic physicians. That’s up from one-third among consumer influences in the previous year.

In its annual survey asking members about patient motivators, the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) asked a similar question, and member physicians consistently report that patients are by far are most concerned about their results, but cost also factors in.

Dr. Williams“In 2014, 69% of surgeons responded that patients say 'results' is most important, followed by cost (14%) and recovery time (14%),” says AAFPRS President and Albany, N.Y.-based facial plastic surgeon Edwin Williams, M.D. “The AAFPRS urges consumers to select a board-certified surgeon who specializes in plastic surgery of the face, head and neck. Choosing a surgeon based solely on price over qualifications and credentials can have catastrophic results.”

Despite this and other groups’ efforts to push value and not cost, consumers continue to be swayed by procedure price tags and physicians continue to engage in price wars. Experts say this isn’t good for cosmetic surgery.

“Commoditization of cosmetic procedures, both surgery and especially non-surgical or minimally invasive, is of great concern to highly trained and credentialed physicians all over the country. Groupon and other daily deal aggregators are partially responsible for creating this trend, and it has stuck,” Dr. Williams says. “Consumers look online and are exposed to television shows that de-medicalize what we do, and therefore, they do not understand the added value of working with an experienced, highly trained physician. It’s our responsibility to differentiate who we are as compared to someone who does not have the same level of training and experience in our core specialties.”

If consumers are led to think anyone can inject botulinum toxin and freezing fat deposits is not operator dependent, they are programmed to shop for a doctor on the basis of price alone, according to Dr. Williams. The result today is an increase in  occurrances of ptosis or asymmetries. In other cases, bargain basement over-diluted injections might last one to two months instead of three to four. There’s more: How about an influx of patients with pigmentation problems that need correction because of laser treatments by unqualified technicians?

Mr. LeahyThat’s not to say price can be eliminated completely, according to Drew Leahy, director of marketing and business development, Incredible Marketing, Irvine, Calif.

“People can’t buy what they can’t afford, regardless of what they want or need. So from that standpoint, price always enters into the process,” Leahy says. “But no one buys on price alone. The more we’re willing to spend, the more we value the product or service. When price is a major influencing factor in our decision, it means that the seller has failed to clearly demonstrate the value of his or her services.”

In This Article

Curbing Commoditization

Don’t Discount: Do This…

11 Ways to Withstand Price Wars

Price vs Value


Curbing Commoditization

The question becomes, how do we curb commoditization?

“Commoditization threatens the cosmetic surgery industry in the same way it threatens every maturing industry: because the industry lets it,” Leahy says.  “There’s always the issue of increased supply (more surgeons to choose from) and an increase in price-sensitive patients to enter the market, but at the end of the day, commoditization threatens cosmetic surgery because we let it. And when I say “we,” I mean all of us: surgeons wage all-out price wars, instead of focusing on differentiation; suppliers and vendors fail to educate patients on the importance of skill and experience when choosing a practitioner; and marketers fail to listen to the growing needs of patients so that doctors can fulfill them with their services. If the industry keeps treating cosmetic surgery like a commodity, the patient is going to treat cosmetic surgery like a commodity, too.”

And the problem of commoditization could get worse. As more non-invasive technologies enter the market, it’s going to get harder for patients to find value in choosing one doctor over the other, according to Leahy.

“Take CoolSculpting, for example. I think we’ll all agree that experience and expertise does make a difference in results, but every picture a patient sees of CoolSculpting is of a girl in a chair reading a magazine. Where’s the doctor? The perception that the device does all the work is very real, and one we’ll continue to battle as an industry,” Leahy says.

So, suppliers of new technologies have a responsibility to educate potential patients about realistic expectations and how experience and expertise can influence results, Leahy says.

Dr. Williams says it’s also critical for organizations, like the AAFPRS, to join the effort and educate the public about the risks of choosing a practitioner based on price alone, without doing their homework.

To further the cause, AAFPRS launched the Trust Your Face to a Facial Plastic Surgeon campaign.

“The AAFPRS adopted this tag line because facial plastic surgeons undergo extensive training and are proficient in cosmetic and reconstructive surgery of the face, head, and neck. We encourage consumers and patients to inquire and verify surgeons' credentials. A key question to ask a potential surgeon is how many times he or she performs the procedure you are interested in, and how they plan to achieve the desired result,” Dr. Williams says.

NEXT: Don’t Discount: Do This…


Don’t Discount: Do This…

Competing on price is never a good idea. It’s a slippery slope because there will always be someone willing to do the treatment for less. Aesthetic physicians who devalue their services will likely find it hard, if not impossible, to raise their fees to a reasonable level, according to Dr. Williams.

“We encourage our members to resist discounting and slashing their fees because another practice across town is doing it. There is no way to win the price wars, and we have seen practices go belly up trying to. Offering patients value, giving them five-star service, and treating them well is the best way to grow your practice,” Dr. Williams says.

Read This: Leahy’s 11 Ways to withstand price wars

NEXT: Price vs Value


Price vs Value

Competing on price might seem easier for some than focusing on value. But doing so will only fuel an unethical approach to patient care, according to Leahy.

“We’re selling confidence, youth and self-esteem, not toilet paper. In cosmetic surgery, the cost of choosing price over expertise can be life,” Leahy says. “Aside from that, price wars lead to a precipitous decline in industry profits — everyone loses in the race to the bottom. When you compete on price, and the industry follows suit, you’re transferring profits to the customer, not the industry; you’re giving buying power to the patient, not the practice. But when you differentiate by adding value, you create customer loyalty, thus reducing price sensitivity.”

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