The Amazon Effect Ramps Up Competition for Personalized Health

We have been talking about the “Amazon Effect” on personalization for several years at Merkle Health and the future is now. With the announcement of Amazon Care last month, coupled with their initial foray into the health landscape with Haven, Amazon’s intent to permanently disrupt the health landscape in America is now a reality. What does that mean to pharma marketers?

If you have any gaps in your data strategy and your ability to activate an omni-channel, people-based marketing strategy, your business is at risk because Amazon is eventually going to eat your lunch.

The sheer amount of consumer data that Amazon has on all of us, combined with their ability to deliver exactly what consumers want, when and where they want it, is going to provide a competitive advantage for their health business. And, when you consider the 100 million Alexa devices in America’s homes that could eventually facilitate the delivery of your prescription drugs within hours, or the scheduling of a doctor visit the next day, or benefit information for how to help you reduce your medical expenses—the sky’s the limit for how Amazon can transform how we consume healthcare forever.

The launch of Amazon Care didn’t come as a surprise, and the initial model—in classic Amazon fashion—will be prototyped in one market with one target audience (employees and their families). But rest assured, this model will soon roll out to a broader audience. This is where all of our direct marketing disciplines—identity management, audience segmentation, personalization, omni-channel activation, measurement—are going to be tested.

An Industry Disruption is on the Horizon

So, Amazon has dipped their proverbial toe in the water. The health industry has been waiting for something that offers a full service (diagnosis, prescription, support, follow-up, renewal) health solution, eventually eliminating the need to go outside of their offering for everything except a specialist and surgery. Watching from the sidelines, and reading between the lines of the website, communications to employees, and the broader opportunity, we are definitely on the cusp of a major wave of disruption across multiple functional offerings in the health industry. But your data, and a healthy dose of activating a people-based marketing strategy, is going to be the prescription for keeping your fair share of the market as Amazon’s disruption evolves.

Rather than go into each in detail, we must recognize that the end game for Amazon is to become the dominant digital/virtual/remote player in personal and family health, with the next expansion leveraging their Haven mandate “…to transform healthcare to create better outcomes and overall experience, as well as lower costs for you and your family.” They want to pursue a broader pilot across multiple employee sites, quickly followed by a geographical roll-out to the general public. We believe that Amazon’s plan is to provide a patient experience that spans diagnosis, telehealth related services, Rx delivery, follow-up, Rx renewal, and likely health insurance.

To put the opportunity into perspective: In the U.S. alone there were 887 million physician office visits in 2017, of which over half were for primary care physicians or general practitioners. This is the exact audience they are eventually after. Without digging further, a quick back-of-the-napkin-calculation can quickly identify the upside for Amazon, and the down side for everyone else—family physicians, minute clinics, pharmacies, and even hospital outpatient clinics.

One last point that is important to consider about Amazon’s intent to transform the healthcare system in the U.S. is to simply look at the healthcare-related investments that their leader, Jeff Bezos, holds. Through Bezos Expeditions, which manages his venture capital investments, Bezos owns significant stakes in companies such as Zocdoc, Juno Therapeutics, and Unity Biotech. If that’s not enough, more recent investments also include GRAIL, a San Francisco-based startup that recently raised over $900M to cure cancer before it starts1.

Our future as healthcare marketers is here and now; and Amazon is about to re-write the rules.



  • Kent Groves

    Kent Groves, PhD leads the global strategy practice at Merkle Health. Kent has been consulting in healthcare for more than 20 years in the areas of healthcare provider segmentation, brand channel integration, CRM, marketing analytics and direct-to-consumer.

  • Croom Lawrence

    Croom Lawrence is Strategy Lead at Merkle Health. Croom is an agency leader in the strategy group at Merkle. He advises U.S. and global marketing organizations on brand leadership, digital transformation, and connected experience design to drive greater customer relevance and business performance.


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