Article

INTO THE WILD

Stressing about competition from online sales?
Here, we unpack 10 sizzling, ECP-served strategies to dial in your own strategic brick-and-mortar game plan to counter the wild, wild web.

What’s your biggest business challenge today?

Overwhelmingly, ECPs tell us that their No. 1 concern is “online sales of prescription eyewear,” according to the 2019 EB Market Trends Focus Group Study.

Some of the feedback on the study’s question on “My Biggest Business Challenge”:

“…Internet sales of eyeglasses and contact lenses.” ­—Jim Hamilton, optician, Ocutique in Syracuse, NY

“…competing with online retail pricing and explaining the difference to patients.” —Survey Respondent

“…the need to deliver on speed and price. It's an Amazon world and the old rules don't apply when it comes to a customer's expectations [regarding] speed, price, and product assortment.” —Steve Nelson, owner and optician, Eye Candy Optical, Cleveland, OH

With these sentiments in mind, today, there’s no question that optical businesses of all shapes and sizes are in an adjustment phase. Eyecare professionals are strategizing ways to define and differentiate their businesses for a modern, Internet-loving world.

To help form your own game plan, here are four key online trends that will impact your business—sourced from The Vision Council’s October 2018 Internet Influence Report and the latest Market Overview presentation.

4 KEY ONLINE TRENDS.

1 ONLINE SALES. Just under 5% of eyeglass frames sold in the 12 months ending September 2018 were bought online, according to research done by The Vision Council. That is, however, an 11% year-to-year increase in unit sales. That growth rate has pretty much stayed the same since 2014.

2 ONLINE DOLLAR VOLUME. As for revenue, sales of optical products online rang in at $2.13 billion for the 12 months ending December 2018. That’s up 9.2% from a year earlier.

3 PLANO SALES. This is an entirely different story. “During the 12ME period September 2018...up to 9.3 million American adults purchased plano sunglasses directly over the Internet,” reports The Vision Council.

4 INTERNET USERS. Among American adults who indicated in 2018 research that they used the Internet to purchase eyewear over a six-month period, 24% bought Rx eyewear and 31% plano sunwear.

It’s all about accessibility, says Vision Council CEO Ashley Mills. “From our recent VisionWatch reports, we can see that online sales of optical products are growing, but both online and in-store purchases have a place in the market,” she says. “It’s important for the industry to adapt to these changes so eyewear continues to be accessible to all consumers.”

10 TESTED TIPS + STRATEGIES.

To help you dial in your own strategic plan, we checked in with five trendsetting independent eyecare pros for their biggest, brightest tips and time-tested strategies. The experts:

5 CRITICAL TIPS.

Intelligent advice for standing out in the optical crowd.

1 Jennifer Lyerly, O.D.: “My best advice for how to compete with online competition is—don’t! Instead, embrace everything you can do that a website cannot, and find ways to creatively lean into those areas. Find what inspires you in optometry and embrace that passion in your marketing message and branding.”

2 Gary Nguyen, O.D.: “Though we’re very technology-forward, you still have to provide good old-fashioned service at a high standard to really set yourself apart. It’s also important to have that old-school service delivered via the latest technology.”

3 Autianna Wilson: “Know your worth. Take pride in selling quality. If you come across a customer looking to walk out with a $100 frame and lens without insurance, you need to let them walk.”

4 Mick Kling, O.D.: “Look at retail. The brands that are contracting are those attempting to offer quality, experience, and a low price, as evidenced by massive numbers of closings, such as Payless Shoes and Gap.”

5 Stephanie Haenes: “You have to prove to millennials that you are better than the online alternative. This demographic wants an experience that’s sophisticated and clean. Make it anything but that and they’ll leave.”

5 BRILLIANT STRATEGIES.

Savvy suggestions are great, but here are firsthand accounts of what has worked in these standout practices as well as other highly successful ones.

1 Target Communications. “We start out and ask every single customer how they want us to communicate with them. Customer service is different to millennials. They want text messages, not phone calls. They want to schedule online, but love in-store interaction. Our demographic over age 35 is the opposite. They want a very personalized experience.”

—Stephanie Haenes

2 Remain Relevant. “Recognizing that we can never win the low-price game, and that those attempting to be all things to all people are the most vulnerable, we’ve moved toward a higher level of service, offering luxury eyewear in a high-end retail environment. It’s our only choice to ensure our relevance in the changing eyecare economy.”

—Dr. Kling

3 Think Outside the Box. “We can’t be boxed into what a practice should look like! Innovative doctors are giving patients unique experiences by taking pages from Apple Stores or luxury hotels. For example, KerriAnn Coombs Hodge, O.D., nixed the traditional office waiting room at De’Cordova Eyewear and incorporated both a library and cafe.

“Think outside the box for events, too. Nathan Bonilla-Warford, O.D., wanted to [stress] eye exams before age 1, so his Bright Eyes Family Vision Center hosts ‘Baby Day’ once each year, offering free infant eye exams.”

—Dr. Lyerly

4 Make a Connection. “Sitting the patient down, talking about lifestyle and needs, and analyzing all the information doesn’t have to be a long process. You should always have five options in mind ready to show. There’s no greater feeling for a client than having someone who can just look and know what’s going to be the best fit for their face, personality, and style.”

—Autianna Wilson

5 High-Tech, High-Touch. “Considering the high incidence of evaporative dry eye and its relationship to heavy digital device use, adding a dry eye center last year has really set us apart. We also bought a zero-gravity massage chair for the Lipiflow procedure and patient dilation. This grabs the attention of pretty much everyone who sees it. So does my dog, Chloe, who is our official patient greeter!”

—Dr. Nguyen

WOULD YOU SELL ONLINE?

Kelly Newman, ABOC, online sales manager at Denver-based Europtics, thinks there’s a sweet spot for ECPs to sell online. “As an industry, we have been so resistant to online shopping for eyewear—however, it’s taking over all areas of shopping so we need to get on board,” she says. “We need to educate ourselves on why consumers want to shop online. Do they just want a deal or do they want convenience? Is it something as simple as offering to preadjust and then ship directly to them when ready? What can we do as opticians to make the online experience better?”

25%
% OF PRACTICES THAT DO SELL PRODUCTS ONLINE (MOSTLY CONTACT LENSES)

37%
% OF THE 75% OF ECPs WHO DON’T SELL ONLINE THAT PLAN TO DO SO WITHIN THE NEXT TWO YEARS

—Source: 2019 Eyecare Business Market Trends Focus Group Study

4 HOT RETAIL-CENTRIC STRATEGIES

Retailers outside optical are thinking outside the box—literally—by adding new services, experiences, and digital enhancement to stores to engage (and hold on to) consumers in the era of online shopping.

» SHOPPING PERSONAL. Clienteling, whereby consumers enjoy the bespoke attention of a personal shopper, has long been the purview of luxury boutiques and upscale department stores. But today, retailers from Saks Fifth Avenue to Coach are storing consumers’ personal shopping behavior, purchasing history, and taste preferences in mobile clienteling apps. The tool enables store associates to engage one-on-one with shoppers by offering customized product recommendations, style suggestions, and special offers.

» WOOING WITH FOOD. Retailers want to help shoppers eat their heart out. Merchants are courting consumers with food—from coffee shops, like the one at a Shinola store in Detroit, to all-out restaurants in surprising places, such as a new organic fast-food eatery at a Walmart. Retailers are betting on the premise that tempting consumers with food options will extend their shopping trip and ring up more sales, while offering them gastronomic joys they can’t experience online.

» DELIVERING EXPERIENCES. Beyond selling merchandise, retailers are adding services and experiences to their shopping environments to boost convenience and even offer a sense of community. Yoga chain Lululemon has added mediation classes, and Best Buy has hired hundreds of salespeople to make home visits to offer shoppers free, personalized recommendations.

» SOLVING SHOPPING TASKS. Retailers are testing digital technology, such as virtual reality, to solve timeworn shopping tasks. One example: Beauty retailer Sephora has added the interactive Virtual Artist tool, an in-store tablet that enables shoppers to virtually “try on” any lipstick or eyelash product that matches their digital likeness.

—BARBARA THAU