THE CONTACT LENS CHALLENGE IS WON OR LOST IN THE EXAM LANE
WE ARE AT A challenging crossroad where the eye care industry may possibly be forever changed by market pressures, similar to those faced by the printing industry, consumer electronics, brick and mortar stores, and even the postal service. In terms of contact lenses, the focus of OM this month, we operate in a dynamic retail environment along with large groups, online sellers, managed care and ourselves.
THE COMPETITIVE LANDSCAPE
National chains and other large groups use innovative marketing strategies to lure consumers out of their doctor’s offices for both services and retail sales. In many markets, these stores offer evening and weekend hours, convenient locations and, often, lower prices than independents.
Online sellers have very slowly eroded the contact lens market, mostly due to consumer comfort with shopping online. Online offers price transparency, often free shipping and returns and instant access to a variety of products and services in a more personalized way than many eye care practices.
Managed vision care continues to cut margins by changing the way reimbursement works. Also, consumers often believe they can have only what their plan entitles. Then there is the ECP who obliges by recommending only what a consumer’s plan will reimburse instead of what the consumer needs. I visited a practice recently and heard, “If you get a six-month supply you won’t have to pay anything, but if you get a year supply, you will only owe $94.” What message does that convey?
Before consumers make changes that will be difficult for us to recover from, we, as providers, must change. We simply cannot continue to remain complacent with the increasing competitive nature of our business. We have to provide more transparency, better and more convenient service, faster delivery, in addition to personalized service.
MEET THE CHALLENGE
This challenge is won or lost not at the front desk, a shopping portal or even on almighty social media, but in the exam lane, face to face between doctor and patient. The survival of the retail contact lens world in a practice setting depends on how providers deal with these challenges each day:
- Are we providing service and convenience (annual supply with direct-to-consumer shipping, solutions, rewetting drops, sunwear, back-up glasses)? If we are not, others are.
- Are we cost-competitive? Some argue that you will lose revenue when lowering prices to compete. True, but 0% of any price is still zero if the consumer walks. And remember: In the end, if the practice views a contact lens patient as a transaction instead of looking at the real long-term value of the patients returning year after year, then the transaction will likely just become one-time.
Be that “valued” relationship between provider and contact lens patient. Build the loyalty. Patients will pay if they value the relationship more than the once-a-year transaction. Some providers think in terms of transactions, not relationships. Granted, some consumers see it that way too. But more value a trusting relationship. OM.