You may not know it, unless a friend or relative has had treatment for breast cancer, but it is the little things that can kill you during recovery — or at least make you very sick. Little things as in commercial brands of toothpaste or mouthwash.
A patient undergoing chemotherapy must use medicinal versions of these products, which can be surprisingly difficult to locate.
Retired e-commerce entrepreneur Paula Jagemann found this out personally when she tasked herself with trying to locate some 17 items a patient about to receive chemotherapy might need. It took her approximately five hours of online searching, she told the E-Commerce Times.
“What woman about to undergo chemo, having been diagnosed with a deadly disease, wants to waste five frustrating hours looking for these products?” she said.
A Happenstance Mission
Jagemann came to her self-imposed task in a roundabout fashion. After founding and selling two e-commerce businesses and then retiring to raise her young daughter — and promising her husband she would stay retired — she joined the board of a local hospital. One of her responsibilities was to oversee a campaign to provide information and other types of support to breast cancer patients.
“There was a request for some Class A office space to provide a women’s boutique for these products,” she said. “And I thought, ‘what are you thinking? Just offer it through a kiosk or electronic catalog.'”
That is how she found herself online looking for compression garments and breast prosthetics.
What she did next, though, is poised to ease the otherwise grim experience of women who are battling breast cancer.
“Besides the frustration of trying to find the right products online, there was just no dignity or compassion in the process,” Jagemann said. “Not to mention the fact that these are expensive products, and there is little to no information to guide consumers on what are best products.”
She set about to change that with her e-commerce site, which debuts Monday. Called “Someone With” — as in we all know “someone with” breast cancer — the site not only offers the specialized products required during treatment, but also offers them in a format that is tailored to meet patients’ needs — from the way the products are categorized to the way the supply chain is set up, to privacy protections and social media outreach.
Stages of Treatment as a Category
For starters, the site can be searched a number of ways, including the typical product-specific approach. Breast cancer patients, however, also shop by treatment phase, and Jagemann and her long-time friend and business partner Andrew Schiff, chief Web officer, also made the site searchable in this way.
“Someone who is eight weeks into her treatment will have an entirely new set of buying needs than someone who is just starting treatment,” Schiff told the E-Commerce Times.
This structure also helps patients prepare for what could lie ahead — information that for many patients is surprisingly still hard to find. A patient might not realize she will be having hot flashes eight or 10 weeks into treatment, for example, until she sees a recommendation for sweat-wicking sheets in that category of her treatment phase, said Schiff.
For that reason, the site expects its customers to be higher-valued shoppers than for typical e-commerce sites, said Jagemann. In short, they will be buying regularly from the site over a period of a year to two years.
“We are expecting high average shopping values,” she noted.
Building Your Own Supply Chain
A key part of the site is the level of detail that is paid to the supply chain. Not surprisingly, these products can be difficult to source from the manufacturers, which range from multinationals to mom-and-pop retailers who invented a particular product to ease a relative’s or friend’s suffering when she had cancer.
“I literally went from manufacturer to manufacturer to see what was in stock,” Jagemann said.
Some of the inventory can be handled via just-in-time manufacturing and shipping, she determined. Most of it, though, she purchased ahead of time and is storing it in a warehouse in Texas.
A Medical Registry
The site includes a medical registry — similar in concept to a baby or bridal registry — which Someone With is patenting. The medical registry is meant to help patients handle the costs of their care in a dignified manner, Jagemann said. “The average cost out of pocket for a breast cancer patient is (US)$25,000. One in four women exhaust their savings battling this disease and one in 10 go bankrupt.”
The registry has a simple message, she said. “The patient is able to tell her friends and family, ‘You’ve all asked how you can help. This is how — stop spending money on flowers or teddy bears or pink products and apply it to what I need in the medical registry.'”
The site implemented privacy safeguards with the registry, Schiff said. One scenario Someone With wants to avoid, for example, is a well-meaning friend posting an email request on a Facebook page that might be viewed by an employer who wasn’t aware an employee was sick.
Each email that is sent out from the registry includes a link to a specific URL. The first email is generically worded; to read the more detailed request, one has to set up a password, explained Schiff. “That way, the email cannot be forwarded to someone else and opened without the password.”
There are other social media elements, such as a crowdsourcing feature to rate and choose the best products for a particular treatment or symptom.
Someone With for Everything Else
Now that Schiff and Jagemann have worked out this business model, they plan to extend it to other illnesses. When she registered for the “Someone With Breast Cancer” domain name, Jagemann also registered for a slew of other illness names as well, including “Someone With Prostate Cancer,” “Someone with Lupus,” and “Someone with Alzheimer’s.”
Sadly, there will be demand for these sites and their products as well, she predicted. The healthcare industry is so archaic that it has not caught up with 20th century e-commerce norms, Jagemann said.
“Any other industry would have solved these problems by now,” she remarked, “with consumers able to find and buy what they need in the appropriate environment.”