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Article Date: 1/1/2017

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Competing With Online Sales, Part 1

ECPs tell us online sellers of Rx eyewear are their biggest threat today. So, we debut this new column to deliver intel and competitive strategies. Dig in...

it’s the proverbial elephant in the room.

Online shopping is encroaching on the business of brick-and-mortar stores—and unfortunately the optical sector is no exception.

In fact, during the year ended June 2016, $1.72 billion in optical product sales—eyeglasses, readers, sunglasses, and contact lenses—were generated online, according to The Vision Council. On a broader scope, overall retail e-commerce sales will reach $1.915 trillion globally in 2016, accounting for 8.7% of total retail spending worldwide, according to eMarketer. While the rate of growth for overall retail sales is subdued, the online portion of retail sales continues to expand rapidly—a 23.7% growth rate is forecast for 2016.

This shift has forced merchants to rethink long-time business models and devise new strategies to keep consumers’ ever-growing appetite for the convenience and choice of e-commerce from crippling foot traffic in their stores.

For eyecare professionals, staying competitive means tapping into some of the forward-thinking strategies of progressive independent retailers and optical shops—focusing on things like highly personalized service and patient care. It also means adapting to market trends and embracing technology to serve today’s digitally savvy consumers, experts say.

Here, we check in with three experts who deliver food for thought on competing in today’s changing retail landscape.

“We are trying to educate customers on why quality frames and lenses are important. A lot of people are ordering online for convenience but sacrifice quality because of it.”

EB Frames & Sunwear Virtual Focus Group respondent

1. Optimize Education

Focusing on the health aspect of prescription eyewear purchase is a slam dunk for brick-and-mortar eyecare businesses.

“Eyeglasses—medical devices that enable people to see and interact with their world more clearly—are an investment in a patient’s health, and purchasing them in collaboration with their doctor of optometry is the most efficient and cost-effective approach,” says Teri Geist, O.D., co-chair of the Content Review Board of the American Optometric Association.

An optical professional is critical to demystifying consumers’ distinct vision health and eyewear needs—and therein lies the eyecare professional’s clear edge over e-commerce.

“Many patients don’t understand what differentiates the various products that are available in offices versus online,” says Dr. Geist. “They make decisions without professional consultation when purchasing online. Explaining the value that working hand in hand with independent practices can provide is important.”

And, it’s a real win for both patients and practitioners in a world where online eyewear sales continue to grow.

INTEL: Online Eyewear Sales

$1.72 billion
During the year ended June 2016, $1.72 billion in optical product sales—eyeglasses, readers, sunglasses, and contact lenses—were generated online.

And while contact lenses account for the largest chunk (40.5%) of the U.S. online eyewear market, purchases of eyeglass lenses and frames—which make up approximately 4% (3 million pairs) of all eyeglass units sold on the web—are growing fast.

Unit sales of Rx eyewear online are up by 500% since 2007, when The Vision Council first started to measure the online purchase of Rx eyeglasses.

50% to 60%
Affordability has fueled the growth of the online eyewear market. Today, eyeglasses purchased online are priced about 50% to 60% lower than ones sold at brick-and-mortar stores.

Source: The Vision Council

2. Tap Tech

To better compete, forward-thinking eyecare professionals are tapping new technologies to add value to the patient experience. This includes employing mobile apps and marketing programs for tablets and smart phones, which shoppers are more frequently using as product-research tools, says Ayako Homma, senior research analyst for Euromonitor International.

Examples include Acep’s ABS Smart Mirror digital try-on app and Solutionreach’s cloud-based patient relationship tools, including online scheduling.

“Eyewear retailers will continue to experience how mobile technology can improve the customer [journey] through mobile apps, online appointment scheduling capabilities, communication, and promotion,” says Homma.

“When they ask for their prescription, they are usually unaware that we can sell the same quality of lens as the online and discount retailers. This is something we are working on and have seen improvement.”

EB Frames & Sunwear Virtual Focus Group respondent

3. Follow Fast Fashion

Retail’s fast-fashion model—whereby consumers can purchase shopping carts full of straight-from-the-runway inspired looks for a song—has spread to how they wish to purchase eyewear.

Some ECPs are taking a page from this model to better compete in a market changed by downward pricing pressures from online merchants.

In an increasingly “knowledge-based economy,” in which shoppers can conduct product price comparisons in seconds from their smart phones, some brick-and-mortar eyewear retailers are upping the ante by including price transparency in their promotional strategies to target consumers seeking “value-for-money products,” says Jasmine Seng, industry research associate at Euromonitor International.

Meanwhile, savvy eyewear retailers are also tapping into faster-to-the-table 3D-printed eyewear lines (such as Eyenavision’s Roger Bacon), which also deliver customization.

—Barbara Thau

Barbara Thau is a contributing writer at, where she writes about the intersection of retail and consumer trends.

Eyecare Business, Volume: 31 , Issue: January 2017, page(s): 40, 42

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