Beating Them at Their Own Game
How to compete with contact lens discounters.
BY DEEPAK GUPTA, O.D.
With the continued growth of discount contact lens retailers, many of us are finding it difficult to retain our contact lens prescriptions. Many otherwise loyal patients go elsewhere to purchase their contact lenses so they can save a few dollars.
One way to counter these losses is to restructure your prices to emphasize fitting fees rather than materials. But you'll still lose income. Instead, take measures to maximize your profit and retain your contact lens prescriptions. Here, I'll give you some tips on how to do this.
The first step in overcoming the obstacle of losing contact lens prescriptions is finding out what you're up against.
Shop at Internet sites and the
1-800 places to get a feel for their prices. You'll probably decide not to match them, but at least you'll know what they are. Then, beat these guys at their own game. Here's how:
Create a separate phone line for contact lens orders. One reason patients turn to 1-800 numbers and Internet sites is convenience. Although you may not want to go to the expense of setting up your own 1-800 number, you should have an answering machine or voice mail separate from your office line so patients can call 24 hours a day and leave a message to order contact lenses. By creating a "contact lens hotline," you'll serve the same function as a 1-800 number.
Use e-mail or your own Web site. Although possible, setting up your own Web site is expensive. If you already have or plan to create one, include a page where patients can request an order for contact lenses.
Or, try e-mail. Have patients e-mail their requests for contact lenses. Between e-mail and the separate phone line, they'll have 24-hour access to ordering contact lenses. All you'll have to do after the initial set-up is monitor for your messages.
Offer direct shipping. Many patients are too busy to return to your office to pick up contact lenses. Most lens companies will ship for you free of charge if you order a 6-month or 1-year supply of lenses. This has many benefits:
- Your patient orders multiple boxes of lenses, immediately increasing your revenue.
- Because you're direct shipping, the patient will have to pay for the lenses up front, which decreases your accounts receivable. You'll no longer have to order lenses and wait for a patient to pick them up and pay. This also frees up valuable storage space in your office.
- You save staff time and costs. No one has to receive the lens order, call the patient or hold the lenses until the patient arrives. Your staff can use this time for other tasks.
- If a patient purchases a
6-month or 1-year supply of lenses from you, he has less incentive to search for lenses elsewhere.
Offer to match the competition's price. The staffer who orders contact lenses for your practice should also keep track of patients who request copies of their contact lens prescription. When that staffer talks to the patient, she should ask him if he's going elsewhere because of a price difference. Have her offer to match the price if she knows your practice will still turn a profit. Although you may not want to lower your prices regularly, remember that whatever profit you make on this sale is "extra" money. You wouldn't earn anything at all on a purchase this patient makes elsewhere.
Be selective about the lenses you fit. The biggest names are also the most available on the Internet or in discount stores.
Because you may not be able to regularly match those extremely low prices, you'll undoubtedly lose many of these fits to outside sources. And because you're limited by local competition on how much you can charge for these lenses, you also make less on the patients who do buy through you. Now, exercise your judgment as the doctor.
You can choose from other lenses that are much less readily available elsewhere. Even if a patient requests a big-name lens, suggest a different one that's just as good or better. If you keep the patient's best interest in mind and fit a lens that's suitable to her needs, there's nothing wrong with selecting a lens that's more profitable.
A LOOK INSIDE
DR. GUPTA'S PRACTICE:
Location: Stamford, Conn.
Years in practice: 2
Contact lens fits per month: 100+
Number of staff: 7
Percentage of revenue from contact lenses: 25%
Do you use direct-from-manufacturer contact lens delivery? Yes, whenever possible.
Percent of practice based on
contact lens patients: 30%
How often do you see your contact lens patients? Every year. For
significant neovascularization or keratoconus, every 6 months.
And don't shy away from the more challenging fits. Fit all modalities of lenses that you're comfortable with fitting. The more complicated the prescription and fit, the less chance of the lens being available elsewhere.
Take advantage of the rebates contact lens companies offer. For example, I routinely tell patients that a 1-year's supply of PureVision lenses costs $300, which includes a $50 rebate from the company. Thus, my prices are more competitive with the 1-800 numbers and I haven't had to lower them by $50. Most patients buy their lenses from me because they don't care where the extra savings come from -- just as long as they're getting it.
Most of us wish that these deep discounters didn't exist. But instead of denying their existence, implement a strategy to compete with them and increase your patient satisfaction and your take-home profit. You'll be glad you did.
DR. GUPTA WORKS FOR STAMFORD OPHTHALMOLOGY, WHERE HE PRACTICES FULL-SCOPE OPTOMETRY. HE ALSO SUPERVISES THE CONTACT LENS DEPARTMENT AND THE OPTICAL SHOP. HE HAS NO FINANCIAL INTERESTS IN ANY PRODUCTS OR COMPANIES MENTIONED IN THE ARTICLE. HE CAN BE REACHED AT
Optometric Management, Issue: November 2001