According to the latest statistics available from the U.S. Census Bureau, e-commerce accounts for nearly 13% of all sales of "health aids." This presumably includes eyeglasses and contact lenses.
exact, up-to-date statistics are unavailable, there is no question that the Internet is becoming a more pervasive competitor of all health-care professionals. Opticians are no exception. I like to refer to the eyeglasses and contact lenses sold on the Internet as "Eye-Commerce," an optical jargon word that I am proud to say is of my own invention.
If you doubt that millions of dollars are spent on eyeglasses bought on the Net, simply open your favorite Web browser and type the word "eyeglasses" into your search engine. A recent search on Google yielded some amazing results. Before I even perused the names of the websites that appeared, I noticed in the corner of the page that my search had resulted in over 6,700,000 overall results. Certainly that includes all references to eyeglasses (e.g. frame companies, retailers, wholesalers, research papers, etc.), but look at it this way: If you viewed each of these individual web pages at a rate of one per second, twenty-four hours a day, it would take you nearly 13 years to view them all. Mind boggling.
Perhaps more startling are the website results that occurred. Here are the top five, as they appeared on my screen:
Eye Buy Direct
All About Vision
Of the top five "hits," three of the companies sell frames or lenses directly to consumers over the Internet. EBD (Eye Buy Direct) offers frames starting "as low as $7.95." Frames Direct, which has been in business since 1996, boasts "over 100,000 frames on line," and claims more than 30,000 visitors to its site every day!
Eyeglasses.com, which is one of the oldest and most comprehensive Web eyeglass sellers, is currently under reconstruction, and is only selling to previous customers via the telephone.
Many times when the subject of Internet sellers is discussed among Eye Care Professionals, the conversation usually turns to whether or not these sites sell "legally." Then attention is turned to whether or not they are ethical or professional. To my way of thinking, those points are moot. The fact is they do exist, they do sell directly to consumers, and chances are they are not going away. Perhaps it would be better to turn our attention to how we can best coexist with these phantom dispensers. Here are a few suggestions.
Be ready. Get informed. Your best weapon in the battle against the Internet titans is knowing what you are up against. When a patient requests a copy of his prescription, be ready to inform him of what is risked by ordering over the Net. An explanation of the importance of measurements might be in order. Has he checked on the company's return policy? What if the prescription is not correct? Who will be responsible for adjusting, maintaining, and repairing these glasses? Is there a warranty? Initiating a conversation that poses these questions might get the patient thinking that price is only an issue in the absence of value. Your professionalism and service might be some things that tip the scale in your favor.
Partner with the Internet merchants. How? They offer many features on their websites that a resourceful Optician could integrate into their own practice. Many sites offer a feature where prospective customers can ‘virtually" try on nearly every frame in the Frame Facts catalogue. For example, Frames Direct calls it "Frame Finder Virtual Try On." A facial photo is emailed to the site, and any frame chosen magically appears on the face! Need a smaller size – it's just a click away. Add a tint. Add AR! Wow! Imagine how much technology and money it took to develop that service. Who's to say you couldn't promote such a service at your dispensary? Perhaps even advertise that you now feature over 100,000 different styles for patients to virtually try on. All it would take is an Internet connection and a digital camera. YOU could upload the patient's picture and YOU could facilitate the virtual fashion show. Your patient would be impressed, and you have just captured a sale.
Compete. I am not saying you should compete with "Neticians" in terms of pricing. All I am saying is you easily could compete with their pricing. The choice is yours, and I understand the arguments on both sides. While many of the prices I found on the Internet were bargains, they certainly aren't giving things away either. Check out this comparison. I went through the motions of ordering a pair of glasses on one of the aforementioned sites. The frame I chose was a Flexon 618 with polycarbonate, Varilux Panamic, Transitions, with an AR coating. The lenses priced out at $313. The frame sold for $119.90, for a total of $432.90. There were many shipping items, but I chose one in the middle - $14.95. This means the total price of the glasses would be $447.85. Now, just for fun, let's assume you told your customer that you would sell him the exact same pair at a 10% discount – meaning your sale price would be $403.06. Based on my average lab cost, your gross profit on that pair of glasses would be just over $124. Arguably, that's a whole lot better than zero. Not to mention the fact you have the opportunity to build a relationship that could result in a customer for life. And in the words of Martha Stewart: "That's a good thing."