Healthcare Goes Retail
Beth Novitsky in Brand Design, Retail

Image © Gensler

The 2010 Affordable Care Act—while providing new coverage for many, and more choices for everyone—has also created a large pool of potential new health insurance customers, increasing competition among providers. This raises an important question: how can a provider attract a new generation of customers, while strengthening its position as a provider of choice within its current customer base? For Horizon Healthcare Services, Inc., the answer was to think like a consumer brand rather than a service provider. And where are most consumer brands experienced and sold? At retail stores.

For more than 80 years, not-for-profit Horizon has provided health insurance to New Jersey communities. Seeing an opportunity for growth, the company engaged Gensler to design a street-level retail space in Moorestown that would build brand recognition, attract new customers, and support current customers. Aimed at creating a customer-focused experience, the retail space presents a welcoming, friendly, non-intimidating environment in which to interact and learn, providing a differentiated approach to sales, service, and wellness education.

At Horizon, visitors can “shop” for health care plans and services by browsing printed materials and using touch-screens to access digital content. They can also engage in real, in-person discussions with staff about coverage, claims, and sensitive health care situations. Multiple seating areas and space types allow customers to determine the level of comfort and privacy that works best for them.

Image © Gensler

Semi-private booths are available for conversations of a more personal nature, and customers requiring even more privacy have the option to book appointments with staff in closed-door conference rooms. To make visitors feel more at ease, the spaces are designed with a residential feel rather than a clinical or office setup: round tables, comfortable chairs, and pendant lights. Printers are hidden in the credenza when not in use. Staff members use laptops, so they are fully mobile and can help customers anywhere in the space.

In the public area, people with quick questions can get quick answers at the information bar, while lounge seating and cafe tables allow people to enjoy a cup of coffee or fill out paperwork more comfortably. The cafe area can also be set up as a lecture-style space for discussions ranging from the details of small-business insurance plans to managing diabetes or the dangers of drug interaction.

With the introduction of a type of physical space not typically associated with the health care industry, the company’s brand identity—previously used primarily in advertising and on the web—needed to be extended in order to have the impact required of a retail brand. Graphic patterns reference the core “cross and shield” identity, but also signify something new and different, injecting energy and a playful, dynamic character to the space.

Image © Gensler

The retail brand makes strong use of custom wallpaper to create a unique space and emphasize the company’s deep involvement in the local community. In the semi-private booths, for example, archival images of Moorestown through the years, obtained through a partnership with the local historical society, ensure a connection with residents and provide a good conversation piece.

Gensler’s design combines elements of hospitality and customer service with a warm and modern aesthetic, redefining existing notions of the health insurance industry. Customer response has been overwhelmingly positive. Kathleen Ruka, Business Owner of Retail Initiatives at Horizon, says, “At first, the concept was difficult for people to understand, as it’s not the traditional way they’re accustomed to seeing a health insurance company. However, once folks began to stop in and experience the center, they quickly learned the value and enjoyed the experience greatly. Our customer satisfaction rate at the retail space is currently 98.27%, and feedback indicates that visitors are extremely happy with the positive experience and service they are receiving.” This response clearly demonstrates the power of putting the customer first.

The Horizon store recently appeared in a CBS This Morning segment covering the "retailization of health insurance."

Beth Novitsky is a design director and senior associate in Gensler's New York office, and a leader of the firm's global Brand Design practice. She believes that a strong brand story can be a powerful asset, whether in the context of a retail store or a corporate environment. She works with companies around the world to develop programs involving brand strategy and identity, print communications, signage and environmental graphics and packaging. Contact her at
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