Independent Optometry’s recovery from the COVID-19 shutdowns has been surprisingly sharp and strong. I know that many practices are still re-opening slowly and even facing a new shutdown, but as I look at aggregated national data I’m struck by a couple of things (comparing recent results to January 2020):
Comprehensive exam volume is close to fully recovered, at 90%+ of January’s comprehensive exam volume.
Weekly eyewear sales volume is ahead of January on a per-location basis.
Weekly contact lens sales volume is also ahead of January on a per-location basis.
How should we account for these results? Hasn’t the pandemic severely harmed the economy? Let me offer a couple of reasons why I’m waiting to see if this is a fluke, followed by several COVID-19-inspired behaviors in practices that may account for the trend in improved sales.
For the purposes of this commentary, let’s put aside the recent spike of cases across the Sun Belt and consider what the ‘re-opening and recovering’ economy looked like and may look like again once we get case growth under control.
Reasons it’s a fluke
I think we’re still very much in ‘the fog of war’ as relates to COVID-19 and the broader economy. Here are a few reasons why the surprisingly strong results we’re seeing may be short-lived:
The first patients in the door were the ones who had been waiting months to buy glasses. They were always going to buy; we’re just seeing the pent-up demand all at once.
The shutdown, combined with extra unemployment benefits from the CARES Act, have left many patients with unusually high disposable income. In short, patients couldn’t spend money, and those that were furloughed got a raise. Now that practices are opening, patients are spending their extra money on more and nicer eyewear.
Social distancing is causing patients to keep their eyewear dollars with their OD. Using this argument to ask for sales seems a bit cynical, but I do wonder if patients are trying to limit their potential COVID-19 exposure by NOT taking their Rx to a big-box store or online retailer.
Reasons it’s a trend
Still, I also think COVID-19 has forced some changes in practices that are positively affecting product sales:
ODs are taking time to PRESCRIBE and SELL products. I wonder if for years now ODs have been focusing on efficiency because they subconsciously assumed most patients would take their prescription online or to a big-box retailer.
Since loading up the schedule isn’t an option in a socially-distanced world, putting a little extra effort into keeping patients’ dollars in the practice is really paying off.
Social distancing is forcing practices to eliminate dead time. To limit the length of exposure between patients and the practice, wasted time is being cut, which means not only can the OD spend more quality time with patients, but also that patients are getting into the optical FASTER.
Most patients are still budgeting an hour for their eye exam visit, and the more time they have to try on eyewear, the more likely they are to buy at the practice.
Hygiene requirements facilitate white-glove, tailored service. In an IDOC Focal Point podcast, Alessandro Baronti, President and CEO of DeRigo REM, cited a statistic that 90% of patients will buy the first pair of glasses they try on. I think the increase in practices ‘curating’ frames for their patients in lieu of letting them browse on their own is increasing capture rates.
Actively helping patients choose frames simplifies the process for patients, increases the chance that patients will find a frame they love and that they’ll fall in love with a nicer, higher price-point frame.
It’s said that “necessity is the mother of invention”, and COVID-19 is forcing everyone to innovate the ways we work and interact with the world around us. It’s difficult to say what the future will look like once this pandemic has passed, but ask yourself: “Are there changes we’ve made to ADAPT to COVID-19 that we SHOULD have been doing all along?”
Keep doing those things. And as always, my best wishes for your ongoing health and continued success.
Nathan Hayes is the Practice Finance Consultant for IDOC. He is a 10-year veteran of the eyecare industry, working at HMI Buying Group and Red Tray, Prima Eye Group from its inception and now IDOC. In his current role, Nathan helps OD practice owners manage their overhead, grow practice revenues and profits, and maximize their personal income, free time, and professional satisfaction. For questions or comments about this article, please contact email@example.com.