FRAME BOARDS with seemingly infinite columns and rows of eyewear line the walls of an antiquated optical space, creating a sea of sameness that is overwhelming to the patient and underperforming for the optometrist. This optical way of business is no longer enough.
The way patients shop for eyewear has been altered forever via a shift toward experience shopping. Consumers visit brick-and-mortar stores that feel good to be in and where personnel help them navigate a complicated product space. Eye care offices have an enormous opportunity to leverage this in-person shopping experience. The O.D.s who will thrive are those who reimagine and redefine their retail spaces to focus on the patient experience.
So, what does the optical retail space of the future look like?
THE PHYSICAL SPACE
Practices benefit from expanding the footprint of their optical retail space. That may mean moving walls to reconfigure your floor plan.
In our new office, we created more open space that encourages movement between different frame collections. To encourage browsing, we emulated the Apple Store with custom communal tables to allow people to shop on all sides of the displays. This created the equivalent of “white space” between brands to give people the time and space to see how each brand differs from the next.
Shoppers move to the right in retail environments. Your office should respond by having a layout that facilitates this and puts merchandise where people move. This allows for a more fluid and dynamic presentation of products and a more extended shopping experience.
There is a direct relationship between the amount of time a person spends shopping and the amount of money they will spend. You can’t know how much your patients will buy until you’ve made the shopping experience as comfortable and easy as possible.
A WELCOME RECEPTION
The main purpose of our front desk is that the patients feel comfortable and welcome, knowing they are in the right place. We drastically shrunk the typical reception desk, blocked all incoming phone calls to that area and made it the welcome center it needs to be. Since patients are all pre-registered by our intake staff, the only transaction that occurs is a quick copy of the patient’s insurance card with a minicard scanner, to keep the space as clean as possible.
AMBIANCE: SCENTS AND SOUNDS
We use clean-burning, soy-scented candles to make the office smell consistently great. The sense of smell is one of our most powerful senses, evoking strong emotional connections. Companies, like Disney, recognize the importance of smell and have equipment that pumps its trademark scent into its properties. For a pleasant audio experience, curate a playlist through a music-streaming service, and invest in a sound system.
COMBINING RETAIL AND RECEPTION
Thoughtful stores and offices offer exciting areas for kids to play and areas for spouses to relax while the other shops. Blend the retail space with the reception room space, and change up floor textures, colors and materials to create interest. Place comfortable seating within the optical showroom, and consider offering unique magazines and large-format picture books. Some of our favorites are “Humans of New York,” “Unexpected,” “Overview: A New Perspective” and Nat Geo’s “Rarely Seen.” Invest in a kids-themed area that attracts young families to your practice. Our jungle theme, with its starlit ceiling and dragonfly bug lights, captures our young patients interest and shows parents that we care about their kids.
We have three typical dispensing tables, but we added two café tables. When you sit across from a patient at a typical dispensing table, it feels like a transaction, like the sales counter at most stores. But when you sit alongside a patient at a higher café table, it feels more collaborative and friendlier. We’ve found that patients enjoy the café tables because they make them feel like they are at Starbucks, and they make them more relaxed. Lastly, we have a standup dispensing counter off to the side of the showroom for quick adjustments and pickups.
CEILING AND LIGHTING
Make your ceilings as high as you can. Suspended tile ceilings can be raised. Drywall ceilings with different layers and crown molding add a dramatic impact. We chose to expose the ceiling joists and drop ceiling clouds within the space to offer visual interest and sound dampening.
Invest in a lighting specialist to make sure the quality and quantity of light is correct. Most retail spaces use 4000° Kelvin lights with a color-rendering index greater than 97. With a comprehensive lighting plan, you can avoid shadows and make sure the colors of the eyewear really show.
Create beautiful displays with shelves, instead of pegs, to display your frames. While pegs are an efficient way to display a lot of product, it is difficult for the patient to differentiate one from another. For our communal tables, we merchandise using risers with height variations to draw patient interest. Alongside those displays are recessed frame trays built into the table that show the optional colors of the styles we carry. With two 8 foot-long tables, we can highlight four of our brands.
Often eye care offices have small table mirrors for patients to look at their new eyewear. Patients want a bigger view of their new look, so we have 12 full-length mirrors throughout the showroom. People love looking at themselves in mirrors, and we’re going to help that happen.
We use clear Lucite branding blocks to identify each frame brand and use a uniform font instead of the company’s trademark logo or font. You’ll see this same type of product identification in stores, like Nordstrom and Barney’s. They’re simple, inexpensive to make and elegant. We have facts about each brand on iPads that sales staff use to explain features in a more engaging way. Minimize the clutter of point-of-purchase displays and props, and let the eyewear be the focus.
It is important to limit the number of vendors and frame lines. This may require some extreme editing to reduce your frame selection that results in a smaller, easier-to-track inventory. It is equally important to limit the SKUs within each brand. For a frame line that features men’s and women’s styles, we only select seven men’s frames, seven women’s frames, and five sunglasses; we have two colors per style, for a total of 33 frames per collection. For single gender frame lines we select 10 SKUs and go three deep in color. When we need to see alternative colors for the frames we show, there is a large iMac recessed into an area that allows quick views of options.
OFFER FREE TRIALS
Most patients are reluctant to purchase custom products, like computer glasses or polarizing sunglasses, preferring to try them first. We remove the risk to buying these by offering 30-day trial periods for both products. We recently expanded the same offer to low-add reading glasses for kids.
MAKE PAYMENTS EASY
Frictionless payment, like Amazon’s One-Click, is a key component in a seamless shopping experience. Start by adding point-of-sale credit card processing on iPads with card readers. This way, every optical employee becomes a patient checkout station.
It is important to add a strong online presence, with social media and your website paired with a in-store experience, to keep patients coming back. We invite patients to visit our online store when they schedule their exam with our intake staff. We also email a link to the correct page, so patients can shop for frames before their exam, save them to their shopping cart and have them ready to look at when they have their exam. We call this “online selection with in-office styling.” Our EyeQue display allows our patients to photograph themselves trying on frames and then post the photos on Instagram or Twitter to broadcast what is happening in our office.
While all these aspects of the physical space are important, it’s the people who matter the most. The role of an optical salesperson is as a consultant or guide, a personal stylist. They must understand and address the personal lifestyle needs and preferences of the patient, while making the eyewear selection enjoyable and fun. Enhance their product knowledge by teaching them the brand stories of the collections you display. We use laminated flash cards with three talking points about each brand, all connected with a spiral ring, that the optical personnel memorize. We’ve also set up Google Hangouts to communicate with our sales reps in real time.
This will be the key differentiator in the retail space of the future. Patients look to you for eyewear fashion curation and guidance. Give them personalized portfolios and a personalized case with their name embossed on it. Then dispense the glasses with a Ghirardelli chocolate in a cloth shopping bag that has your logo that they will reuse in the future.
As odd as it may sound to some readers, if you own a private practice you also own a store. That store contributes to half your income and to half of your retirement account. The stakes are high that you get this part of our practice right and not keep doing what you have always done because it has worked so far. Retail is changing at light speed, and you must be proactively changing too. Make this be the year you make meaningful changes in the way you run your optical business. OM
All photos courtesy of Babboni Photography and Ziegler & Leffingwell Eyecare