The 3 Trends in Retail and How You Can Capitalize on Them
May 15, 2019
By Susan Daly, IDOC Consultant
Decoding the Consumer was the topic du jour of the Vision Monday Summit at Vision Expo East, the event that is often hailed as the fashion week of eyewear. (If that’s true we need to take some cues from the Met Gala and have a red carpet, from the neck up of course.) When I speak to practices about why they attend Vision Expo East they tell me "because it is an event they just can’t miss". Being there, apparently, is enough. It is the end goal. Because something may debut, they may stumble upon something new that they never knew they always needed, they may run into someone they haven’t seen in forever. When I ask brands why they attend Vision Expo East they tell me "because it is an event they just can’t miss". They need to be seen, and heard, and this is their grand chance to do it. This is the kind of reputation we all want to build.
For an independent practitioner there are several lessons to be learned just from being at VEE. For example, the sheer number of brands that are available can drive home the idea that you will never be able to carry them all, so stop trying. The Expo is broken up in to sections—luxury, gallery, big brand, etc., a feat easily achievable in any independent optical. For many, East is a selling show, an opportunity to boost revenue, but it is also about building relationships. Not everyone who happens upon a brand’s booth will buy, but what the brand needs is to be remembered…why else would Shaq be there? How do patients remember your optical? What Expo creates is far more than a sales floor, but an experience, and a "can’t miss" one at that.
Experiential retailing was a big theme at the Summit, along with big data of course, the two major drivers in the changing consumer economy today. These two things I understand and can execute but the third, which was touched on only briefly, is empathic retailing. The third wave of the changing consumer if you will. That one scares even me. Let’s break the big trends down individually.
EXPERIENTIAL RETAILING is the move toward being memorable for something other than your product, which, if you can believe it, is not secondary, or even a tertiary concern. If we want to think in opposites, experiential retailing is the move away from transactional retailing. Transactional retailing in a nutshell is what most of us are doing on Christmas Eve, or the day before a loved one’s birthday when we just didn’t have the time to find that special something. We’ve all been there. But transactional retailing does not create stickiness, what we all need to thrive. Gaining new customers has always been, and will forever continue to be, more expensive than retention. Gaining new customers is like gaining new employees (if we want to use a practice management analogy for those not yet paying attention to the retail side of their practice). Yes, I said retail, not dispensing. Stick with me! You have to find them, you have to vet them, you have to incentivize them, then you have to retain them. New customer acquisition is the reason for the existence of the Superbowl ad, and just as expensive comparatively at every level of consumerism. To start on experiential retailing focus on the five senses. Be a patient in your practice and go through the journey. What do you see? Focal wall? What do you hear? Music? What do you touch? How old are your chairs…really? What do you smell? This is not a hospital. What do you taste? That’s a tough one… coffee goes a long way.
BIG DATA. While a marketing budget is critical and usually falls on the 1-3% of revenue spectrum, as we just said it is easier, and cheaper, to retain patients rather than constantly chasing new ones. When we think marketing, we almost always think of something external. But internal marketing can be far more effective. This is when I generally recommend an 80/20 hug campaign. Find that 20% of your patients who are most loyal to your practice. Rate them on a scale of criteria. Length of retention, money spent out of pocket in the last 3 years, number of family members as patients, number of frames sold over time, are all good places to start. When you find your most loyal 20%, which most likely generate 80% of your total optical revenue, treat them differently, better is what I’m saying. When I suggest this, the most common roadblock to execution is finding that 20%. This is where big data becomes our friend. The best thing you will ever do for your practice is to have a robust practice management software and metrics tracking program of your choosing. These two things in tandem, along with someone who can not only read the data, but translate it into actionable campaigns, will place you far ahead of your competition in being able to easily and quickly identify the feeder streams into your revenue, where they originate, and ensure they don’t dry up.
The third, scariest (for me), and hardest to execute trend in retailing is empathy. I, retailer, not only have to fulfill your wants and needs, I need to do it at the place and time of your choosing, in all the ways that are most convenient for you, and even anticipate desires you don’t even know you have! Consumers are a needy bunch, aren’t they?
This trend is not going away, only intensifying. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about that is outside the optometric industry, just so no one gets mad. Stitch Fix is a ship-to-home retailer. The consumer creates an account, answers a short, incredibly user-friendly questionnaire, and is paired with a stylist. Three days(!) later a box arrives at their home with a selection of clothes, shoes, accessories, and undergarments that suit their particular idiosyncrasies. If you like the products, you keep them. If you don’t, send them back. Then they try again. From the consumer’s perspective, they are receiving a highly individualized, customized experience, the timing over which they have total control with options to receive shipments every month, quarter, or year. The service is delivered to their door, and they can consume the experience at the place of their choosing. While the retailer is partnering with the consumer, the retailer is not present at the time of decision-making. Contrast that with the stranglehold today’s optical has on patients who have to select eyewear right after their exam, make their decision immediately from a selection that was intended to solve all the world’s problems on one frame board, have an optician, who is in every way a stranger not only give their opinion but watch them the entire time. And we ask, even expect, them to return only once a year. From the corporate perspective of Stitch Fix, for every box of items that is fully returned, not utilized, which to the traditional optical would feel like a failure of the transaction, they gain an unbelievable wealth of consumer data on fit, styling, demographic desires, and expectations, that can be further applied to their business model. Imagine the experience you could create with that kind of big data.
(I have no stake financial or otherwise in Stitch Fix, except that I am currently wearing a pair of jeans from them that fit me perfectly…how?! I’ve known myself for some decades now and even I can’t do that.)
Susan earned her bachelor’s degree in Fashion Merchandising Management from FIT and studied branding abroad at the University of Westminster. Her most recent positions include Merchandise Manager for Cohen’s Fashion Optical and Northeast Regional Trainer for Solstice Sunglasses. Susan started her own business in 2009 and sold it in 2016 to return to Connecticut and begin working for IDOC, helping other small business owners find success on their own terms. For questions or comments about this article, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.