It's been a controversy for some time now, but online optical retailing has slowly and steadily become a small but growing part of this business. The following multiple-location regional optical operations weigh in on their experiences with the e-tail channel: John D. Marvin, president,
Texas State Optical; Michael Gatti, optical manager,
Barnet Dulaney Perkins; and Mark Johnson, Director of Optical Services,
Virginia Eye Institute.
John D. Marvin, president,
Texas State Optical, Houston
How are you reacting to online optical retailing? We believe the internet is here to stay. We also believe that the primary benefit it provides consumers is convenience, and that is a major attribute of how consumers choose where they will purchase everything. Therefore, for us not to embrace this channel of communication and distribution would be illogical.
The question is how to incorporate it into our current mode of practice. We are beginning to offer frame products through our office websites. Each network member has the option of whether or not to offer frames online. If they choose to do so, we have a strategy that not only encourages multiple frame sales but also provides a great deal of convenience for patients. In addition to offering frames online, we are looking at additional ways that we can provide at-home delivery of products and services.
The innovative use of technology opens up extraordinary opportunities to literally change the way people select their provider of eyecare services and purchase eyewear. We do not believe that we have to compromise personalized care when using technology, to the contrary, we believe that it opens new ways of doing just that.
Michael Gatti, optical manager,
Barnet Dulaney Perkins, Phoenix
How are you reacting to online optical retailing? I do not feel like online optical retailers are a huge threat to our practice. We try our best to educate our staff so they understand the difference in quality between us and competitors. Being able to effectively relay this message to the patient is extremely important. A lot of other ODs believe they are losing patients to Sam's Club and Costco, and these are the same practices scared of losing patients to the internet. If you can truly educate your patients on the benefits of purchasing eyewear in your location, there is no worry for online competition.
The only thing the internet has that we don't is a cheaper price. However, the products are completely different, and the quality is explicably different. Once you have the confidence to translate that to your patients there is no need to worry about online competition. We pride ourselves on our customer service and quality of care, and that is something the online community can't beat.
Mark Johnson, director of optical services,
Virginia Eye Institute, Richmond, Va.
How are you reacting to online optical retailing? Online optical is part of life for us now. The good news is it will never take over what we do. Even though there has been a steady increase in online optical purchasing over the past few years, in the coming years it will level out and most likely will never be over 15 percent of all optical purchases, keeping in mind that over 50 percent of online optical purchases are contact lenses.
We have devised plans to educate our patients about the advantages and benefits of purchasing from us. We do have our online optical site, and we sell it all on this site. This site works more as an extension of our locations, allowing us to show we have an understanding of online, which becomes a confidence builder for the patients. Our Virginia Eye Institute online optical sells what we have in our locations but also allows us to offer frames that we do not have in our location. Again, it works as an extension of our dispensary as we could not possibly carry everything onsite as we can online.
We do provide measurements for people to buy from other online opticals. We do charge for the service, which includes all measurement, inspection of the product once received by the patient, adjustments and minor repairs. Online will never go away. It is here for us to live with, so we just have to adapt to it. For most of us it is easy to not think of this because it is not part of our everyday lives, but there are secluded areas of the world and this country that benefit from online optical because they do not have easy access or any access to eyewear. Online has helped with this.