I tend to be the voice of reason when it comes to online optical sales. I stay objective and non-emotional. I realize that e-commerce will increase in all industries and product categories over time, but I also realize that for prescription eyeglasses, the percentage purchased online has stayed around 3% for many years. The important thing is that we monitor the trend closely and be ready to implement smart strategies when the time is right. OK, the time is right.
I’m seeing a noticeable increase lately, in my practice and among my consulting clients, of patients who are omni-channel shoppers and showroomers. These are people who bring out their phone as they begin to look at frames. They quickly browse the internet for prices on the frame model we are showing them. They use their phone to take photos of the frames, including the model numbers, sizes and price tags to help them shop later. They ask for their PD. While the total number of people taking their eyeglass prescription to go is still fairly small, the time is right to implement some office policies and train your staff on how to handle this trend. Let’s gain experience now and get better at competing with the online sales channel.
Honor the right to take the Rx
Train yourself and your staff to always acknowledge the patient’s right to his spectacle Rx at the beginning of any discussion. It may seem obvious to us, as eye care professionals, that patients can buy their glasses anywhere they choose, but some of the tactics I’m going to recommend may be perceived as trying to convince patients to buy their glasses from your office and I want to be very clear that we respect the patient’s right to decide and we will always happily give them a copy of the Rx.
Once you let patients know that you have no problem with them buying glasses anywhere they wish, you may disarm them enough to educate them. Many patients actually want to be educated about buying eyewear and you are their eye doctor of choice. They trust you by default until you give them a reason not to.
It is important to remember that you want to retain the patient and his family for eye health care for a long time. If you handle any requests to buy glasses elsewhere with respect and professionalism, there is no reason for the patient to leave you for eye care. Don’t take it personally if people want to take their Rx and buy glasses elsewhere, even if it is online. Don’t show the patient any sign that you are annoyed. Smile and be understanding.
While it is important to be cooperative, it is perfectly fine to share your professional opinion that buying glasses online is not such a great idea. I used to think I had to be so professional that I would never even talk about the pros of buying glasses from our office or the cons about buying them elsewhere. But I realize that is actually doing a disservice to the patient. We are the optical experts. The patient does not know anything if we don’t tell him.
The best way to educate is to just talk to your patient openly about buying glasses elsewhere. If he has not stated his intention outright, just ask in a non-defensive manner if he is thinking about buying glasses elsewhere or online. The rest will come naturally, but here are some tips you can share with your staff:
Have a couple of stories ready about other patients you have worked with who bought glasses online and had problems. Start by saying: “Other patients have told us…”
Acknowledge early that it is possible to find frames and lenses cheaper online and in discount stores, but there are many important services built into the price of glasses and cheaper is not always better. Talk about precise measurements and proper fitting. Talk about eyeglass warranties and future adjustments and repairs. Talk about better quality products and how all lenses and frames are not alike and how hard it is for a consumer to tell the difference.
Prepare your own educational handout about your optical department and give one to the patient. Your staff can use it as a guide for talking points. I’ve used a handout for years titled: Six Reasons to Buy Your Glasses at Gailmard Eye Center. I’ll publish it in a future tip article.
Prepare another handout about your policies for glasses that are made elsewhere, including online vendors. More to come on this, but decide what you’ll do about providing PDs, seg heights, vertical OCs, adjustments, Rx verification, etc. If you charge a fee, let people know in advance, but also consider that you do not have to provide the service at all for patients who do not buy their glasses from you (unless it is part of their prescription and required by law). For example, you could set your policy to provide PDs upon request, but seg heights and OC measurements are only made for glasses purchased at your office. In many ways, I like that better than charging some nominal fee.
This topic is fairly big, so I’ll continue to write about it for the next few weeks. More to come on your frame inventory choices, optical pricing, policies for PDs and adjustments, and the use of technology in your optical.
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.