So here’s a good topic to get you going today... showrooming. It’s one of those new verbs that has sprung up to describe a fairly new phenomenon in the retail sales world. Showrooming refers to customers (or patients) who shop in brick and mortar stores with the express intent of making a decision about products so they can go home and buy the item online at a lower cost. If you happen to own one of those brick and mortar places, such as your office, it definitely strikes you as unfair and just not right.
Most of us have seen this in our own offices by now: the patient with a notebook and pen who writes down frame model numbers and sizes and prices (often asking your staff for help with the process). Or worse, takes photos of the frames with a cell phone and then uses the phone to browse the internet for online vendors selling the same product. It’s enough to give you one of those gloom and doom moments, but take heart... rumors of the demise of brick and mortar opticals have been greatly exaggerated.
Look at major retail
If you think the occasional (rare) patient who showrooms your office is concerning, how would you feel if you were the CEO of Best Buy and you had to face this same trend on a huge national scale, with Wall Street watching very closely. According to Drew Fitzgerald of the Wall Street Journal, analysts warned last year that the company's 1,400 stores were becoming little more than a testing ground for Amazon.com customers. Fast forward to the current holiday season and Best Buy is running TV commercials proclaiming its stores as the “ultimate holiday showroom”! I’ve been in Best Buy recently and it is true. The place is amazing and I bought a tablet PC!
Best Buy CEO, Hubert Joly, has been quoted as saying he loves showrooming! "A year ago, people said that showrooming would kill Best Buy. I think that Best Buy has killed showrooming,” Mr. Joly said in an interview, as he referenced price matching strategies and improved customer service.
The WSJ article goes on to describe how some big box stores are benefitting from “reverse showrooming”, as shoppers search online for products before buying them in a traditional store! I love to think that it works both ways in our offices, too. Target stores have gone so far as to install free Wi-Fi to encourage customers to browse the internet with cell phones.
A reversal in optical
Another sign that brick and mortar offices have a bright future in optical is that two major online optical vendors have recently opened brick and mortar stores. Warby-Parker has a number of stores in major U.S. cities and Coastal Contacts, a Canadian retailer of eyeglasses and contact lenses, just opened its third store. What’s that about?
What can you do about it?
As interesting as those trends are, let’s get back to what you and your staff should do when a patient says he does not want any assistance, but he blatantly writes down data or takes photos. I must acknowledge my friend and colleague, Mark Hinton, who is an excellent speaker and optical consultant, for getting me to see this the right way.
I found I was way too worried about staying removed from the patient’s right to buy glasses wherever he chooses. Of course, he has that right, but why should we stand by silently? Why should we never say anything against the idea of buying glasses online, as if it were sacred? I happen to believe it is a bad idea in the patient’s best interest. And most patients in my office have a lot of respect for my opinion and that of my staff. So, the best way to handle showrooming is to engage the shopper. Ask him questions, like “Are you thinking of buying glasses on the internet?” Ask some more questions and you’ll know where to go from there.
Be sure to share some stories of other patients who have bought glasses on the internet and how it did not work out well. Talk about how important precise measurements are in order to obtain the clearest vision and how those measurements and fittings are not possible over the internet. Quote the research study from Pacific University and reported by the AOA that found over half of all glasses ordered on the internet failed tests for prescription accuracy or safety specifications. Advise patients that they are better off buying glasses in person from an optometrist.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.