It’s everywhere.  The fear and misunderstanding of what is happening in optical and the surge of patients wanting to buy glasses and contacts on the Internet.  There is good reason for concern, and it’s time to change what we are doing in our opticals.


Before we talk about what to do about “it” we need to define what is happening from a global perspective.  Retailing, as we know it has changed because of consumer behavior and knowledge.  Just ten years ago the people who sold things held all the knowledge and leverage.  Today because of the Internet, all the knowledge you want or need about a product or service is readily available at your fingertips.  The leverage of the seller is greatly diminished because the consumer has the WORLD WIDE WEB (yes, all in capitals because it's the world you compete with) to use to determine the value of products and services.


Compounding the problem, our industry tells the average consumer that two pair of glasses should cost $69 and the exam is FREE!  No wonder when you present your solution for $500 a pair, patients want to shop elsewhere.


This vast change in power, leverage and knowledge is the beginning of the commoditization of optical.


There are many opinions on how to handle this new way of doing business and frankly, many are based in fear and not taking the advise or watching the examples of those who are also competing for consumer dollars.  This is not a new problem to the rest of retailing.  It is new to the optical industry. Understand that we are never going back to the way it was, so doing nothing is not an option unless you plan on shutting down your optical.  Instead, look objectively at your own practice and ask yourself:


“Would I buy my glasses here?” 

“Does my office look old, tired and outdated?”

“If I was going to spend $500 on an item, how would I want to be treated?”

“Is my office, exam equipment, fixtures, technology up-to-date?”

“What can we do be more like a retail setting and less than a medical setting?”


Don’t fall into the trap that patients who want their PD and shop elsewhere are evil, chances are you simply haven’t given them enough reason to buy from you.


So what do you do?


1.     Accept and embrace that the front of the house (optical) is a retail experience and the back of the house (exam lanes) is medical.  They are two different experiences and should be treated that way.

2.     The level of care, service, experience and complexity you provide on one side of the house, needs to be consistent on the other side. A great exam experience will be lost on a bad retail experience.

3.     Create an environment that is welcoming and expresses genuine gladness that the patient is in your office.  Many times I have witnessed an attitude towards patients that we just “turn them out” one right after another. If you commoditize your patient, they will commoditize you.

4.     Educate your patients in a very conversational way about your experience, the value of the exam (not in dollars but in health benefits) and that as the care provider of their eyes, there is nothing more important to you than the satisfaction of the service you deliver.

5.     Don’t trip over dollars to save pennies.  If you have a patient buying $500 worth of eyewear, give them a gift of appreciation.  You see this all the time a make-up counters in department stores.  Give them something they will use, show others and get a “warm fuzzy” every time they use it.  And don’t charge a patient to clean their glasses or other simple tasks.  It will only cause them to wonder how much you’ll charge for everything else.

6.     Be happy and joyful that you get to serve a patient.  7 out of 10 patients will leave a practice if they feel the staff treated them indifferently.

7.     Sell them what they want, but always leverage your experience and passion for healthy vision.   Start with the best package you have- it should include an outdoor pair and everyday wear.  Offer only three packages and let the patient decide.

8.     Sell your lenses first- ALWAYS.  I know it’s more fun for you and the patient to select frames first, but your reputation as an eye care provider (different than a frame seller) is the quality of the sight that comes from an accurate fit, material selection and lens treatments.  The number one complaint from on-line purchasers is the lack of fit.  That’s a result of an un-educated patient who doesn’t understand the complexity of the medical device you are custom making for them.  Then, sell the frame.  If there is a price issue, stay firm with your lens recommendation and send them back to the board for a different frame.  Remember, your reputation is going to be based on how well they see, then how well they look.

9.     Step back and objectively look at your frame board.  If it all looks the same, change it up.  Better yet, change it up anyway. Rotate in new lines, create sections for frames that are “new this season,” and actively manage your frame board as a retailer.  It’s hard work and so worth it. 

10. Divorce yourself of years of training that the patient wants to buy only what their insurance covers and that they can do it only on the anniversary date of their exam.  Patients will often say “I just want what my insurance covers” because they don’t know what else to say.  We are the only health care segment that accepts that notion.  Insurance contributes to the solution, it no longer convers the solution.  The same happens when we go the doctor or dentist; there’s the co-pay, insurance coverage, and then what we owe in addition.  Optical should be no different.  Second, on-line retailing has shown one glaring opportunity.  Only we (independent practices) sell glasses to a patient on average every 2.1 years.  On-line retailing data shows a patient buys new eyewear every 1.2 years and that it’s trending towards every 6 months.  That’s a huge mind-set we need to change in our offices.


We have much to overcome in this new world of retailing in optical.  To overcome this change, we must first change our own minds about what we do and why we do it.  For those of us who are mired in the past when competition was limited and we were the only game in town, it will be a difficult transition.  Those willing to invest in their future and change along with it, it will be a fun, exciting and challenging place to be!