Article Date: 6/1/2013

I Became an Online Retailer
practice profile

I Am an Online Retailer

I enable patients to purchase contact lenses through my practice website.

LARRY GOLSON, O.D., ASHEVILLE, N.C.

E-commerce sales account for 5.4% of total sales, says the U.S. Department of Commerce. Between 2002 and 2012, online contact lens (CL) and spectacle sales increased 28.2%, says an IBISWorld report. In 2012, online revenue from these items was estimated at $350 million. By 2017, they are estimated to increase to $530 million.

In reaction to online retail, some of us have chosen to create patient handouts that list the benefits of purchasing their lenses with us (e.g. personalized care, competitive pricing) vs. the online retailers. Also, some of us have provided online ordering.

Here, I discuss my practice’s online ordering.

Patient behaviors

In addition to the overall threat of online retailers, a majority of my patients are between age 20 and 65 and, thus, are often too busy with work and family obligations to call or visit my practice during the workweek to order CLs. (My practice is closed weekends.) Concerned for their eye health and that I’d lose these patients to other ordering options, I decided to become an online retailer, in addition to a brick and mortar one.

How it works

Patients can visit my website, www.myenvisioneyecare.com, and click on the “Order Contact Lenses” link. From there, they are taken to a site run by our wholesale CL distributor. The site includes some of the elements of my website and is at the same web address, so patients do not realize they are at a new site. This is important, as we want patients to know we are still their caretakers. Plus, if they realize they are on a different site, they may be tempted to browse for CLs elsewhere.

Patients are able to order CLs through the site if they have a valid prescription with us. If they do not, the CL distributor contacts us to check for a valid prescription. Once an order is placed, our practice is notified, and the distributor issues a check to our practice almost immediately.

The overall set-up of the online ordering site was very easy. I worked through my CL distributor representative, and in a short time they provided me with a link, which I gave to my web designer. Within a few days, we were live.

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Online ordering may help practices retain CL sales.

Baby steps

Last year, my practice grossed $730,000, with CL sales comprising roughly 8%. A slight percentage was attributed to online sales. I believe the service hasn’t yet reached its full potential for two reasons: (1) Not all our CL patients are aware of it, and (2) patients who are aware of it question the reliability of online ordering to use their health insurance.

We are working to rectify this by having our staff provide patient education on both issues. Once all our CL-wearing patients are aware of the service and its reliability, I believe online CL sales will dramatically increase.

Advice for others

To give yourself an excellent chance of retaining CL sales, consider offering CLs online. This, in addition to competitive pricing, patient education regarding our fitting expertise and personalized care, makes buying lenses elsewhere nonsensical. OM

DO YOU HAVE A UNIQUE PRACTICE? E-MAIL JENNIFER.KIRBY@SPRINGER.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.



Optometric Management, Volume: 48 , Issue: June 2013, page(s): 88