Optical Retailers: ‘Catching Up’ With Technology and the Growth of Omni-Channel

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Jobson Optical’s Marc Ferrara (r) with representatives from Adlens, dba LIVE sponsors, (l to r) Dean Butler, Mike Ferrara, Dr. Graeme Mackenzie and Dr. Rob Stevens.

Panelists discussing ‘Technology Reinvents the Retail Experience’ at the dba LIVE event were (l to r) Tobii’s Barbara Barclay, Metro Optics’ John Bonizio, EyeLux Optometry’s Brian Chou, OD, and LensCrafters’ Joe Pflanz.

Vision Monday’s dba LIVE event filled the room at the Venetian Las Vegas.

(L to R) Sunland Optical’s Gordon Bishop with Eye Care Centers’ Russ Tolar and Matt Tolar.

(L to R) Robert Davidson and Charles Tassos of EFM Agency with Mitch Rutledge, Vision Essentials by Kaiser Permanente.

(L to R) Pflanz, Bonizio and Dr. Chou answer questions.

Vision Monday’s Marge Axelrad with Adlens’ Dean Butler.

OD Excellence’s Jerry Sude, OD, (l) and Jerry Lieblein, OD.

Luxottica Retail’s Cyndy Dinius (l) and Brandi Bittner.

CareCredit’s Matt Boller (l) and Randy Baldwin.

Iristocracy’s Lynn Richards (l) and Natasha Vora.

(L to R) Transitions’ Brian Hauser and Renee Himel with National Vision’s Bruce Steffey.

(L to R) Schaeffer Eye Center’s Jack Schaeffer with Adlens’ Sue Creek, Drew Eichelberger and David Eichelberger.

HVHC’s Terry Ramey (l) and Florian Safner, OD, (r) with Four Eyes’ Michele Andrews, OD.

LAS VEGAS—While some optical retailers are embracing the latest in retailing technologies, many are lagging behind. While that sentiment was repeated during Vision Monday’s “dba LIVE: Technology Reinvents the Retail Experience,” the presenters represented the cutting edge of optical retailing technology. Sponsored by Adlens, the first ever “dba LIVE” was held here at the beginning of Vision Expo West earlier this month.

Optical retailing is in the midst of dramatic change, and technology is among the driving forces. To explore new retailing techniques and the technological advances influencing them, Vision Monday’s “dba LIVE: Technology Reinvents the Retail Experience” presented a variety of perspectives from the front lines of innovation in optical retailing. The event brought to life Vision Monday’s e-newsletter, “dba: Doing Business in Optical’s Local Markets,” which can be viewed at www.visionmonday.com/dba.

After an introduction by Jobson’s president and CEO, Marc Ferrara, “The Rise of Tech and Omni Channel” was presented by Vision Monday’s senior vice president and editorial director, Marge Axelrad. She described the trend toward omni-channel in retailing these days, stating that “consumers want smooth interactions across all channels” and observing that “our industry has a lot of catching up to do.” To illustrate the technology potential of optical retailing, she showed the real world example of the new Sunglass Hut store in Manhattan’s Times Square, complete with iPads and an interactive screen that enables passersby on the street to take photos of themselves and virtually try on frames.

“Eye Tracking at Retail” was presented by Tobii Technology’s Barbara Barclay. She illustrated how studying where consumers are looking when they walk into a store can dramatically impact sales. Using the experiences of major brands such as Tropicana, The Gap, Amazon, JCPenney and Procter & Gamble, she showed how eye tracking technology can be used to either make or break a product launch or redesign.

At the retail level, eye tracking “adds an objective viewpoint into what someone’s looking at,” she said. It can help optical retailers answer questions such as: When someone looks at a pair of glasses, what do they look at first? What’s the best way to set up a display? Barclay alluded that some of the most dramatic eye tracking technology may be yet to come. “In two years, you’ll have computers embedded with eye tracking technology,” she said, and she hinted that “in 2014 will come the next generation of wearable displays that will be unbelievable.”

The next three speakers represented different types of optical retailers, all of which are implementing technological innovation in various ways to reinvent their retail operations and redefine the patient experience. Brian Chou, OD, of EyeLux Optometry, discussed “Using Technology to Engage and Educate Patients in the Exam Lane and Dispensary.” He presented a diagram representing the different stages on the “patient visit cycle” where his practice has implemented innovative technology.

Automated equipment in the exam lane “allows docs to spend more quality time with the patient.” A visual paging system not only “directs staff and doctors where they go next without yelling down the hallway,” but it also assists with the pass off of the patient from the optometrist to the optician. Practice management software, patient communication systems, social media and web analytics all contribute to streamlining the patient experience and improving the EyeLux bottom line.

John Bonizio said that his practice, Metro Optics, has been on the cutting edge since his business partner founded it in 1978. His presentation on “Transforming the Optical Retail Experience” discussed how his three locations in the Bronx and planned 4,000-square-foot store that he describes as an “Apple store for eyewear” continue introducing the latest in technology.

After warning, “While we’re all concentrating on insurance companies and the latest trends, outside forces are looking to take over our industry,” he shared examples of how his company is taking steps to remain competitive. This included using social media, search engine optimization, and QR codes as technological word-of-mouth and digital measuring equipment and videos throughout the store to wow the patient. Ultimately, though, “it’s really all about relationships,” and all this technology exists to serve the interaction between practitioner and patient, between optical retailer and consumer.

Bonizio’s comment “you should have as many glasses as you have shoes in your closet” brought applause. Although he referenced consumer electronic stores that want to control them, he did stress that he feels technologically advanced eyewear still belongs to the eyecare professional. “It’s Google Glasses. It’s electronic eyewear. It belongs to us,” he said, concluding, “This industry needs to wake up.”

The last retailer to speak about ways his company is implementing technology was Joe Pflanz, senior director, omni-channel customer experience, LensCrafters, who presented “The Interaction of Digital and Traditional Retail.” He discussed a wide range of digital tools that LensCrafters has already implemented to engage the patient and simplify the eyewear purchasing process. These include a virtual try-on tool with Facebook integration, a lens simulator, an in-store virtual mirror, the AccuFit digital measuring system, and even a low tech quick-replace eyeglasses case containing all the necessary information for replacing a pair of eyeglasses. He also announced that LensCrafters is rolling out iPads to all of its associates at all of its stores.

Reiterating a theme presented throughout that “our category is behind” when it comes to omni-channel retailing, Pflanz stressed its importance. “The reason we should do omni-channel is because it’s what the customer wants. Omni-channel customers are four times more valuable than single channel customers. The opportunity is huge,” he said.

Sponsored by Adlens, dba LIVE included a presentation by the variable focus eyewear company’s Dr. Graeme Mackenzie and Dr. Rob Stevens, introducing its newest technology, Focuss variable focus progressive lenses. ■