Taking Steps Toward Selling Online

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People swore it couldn’t be done. Others vowed it would never happen. But there is a small and growing cadre of independent eyecare professionals and optical retailers, who operate professional offices, multi-unit opticals, single locations, who have come to believe that taking part in e-commerce is not heresy.

They tell VM, in Associate Editor Catherine Wolinski’s story within our Cover Topic this issue, that it is important to utilize available resources to gain back a sense of control, offer patients more choices, reach new customers, reallocate staff time and make money by exploring e-commerce.

There is not one way to do it. Some have chosen to participate by offering only product categories which they specifically do not sell in-store/in-dispensary. Others feel that there are ways to tackle offering Rx options and they are trying things out.

Virtual try on is at varying stages of development. Measurement is still varying widely.

And, more to the point, perhaps the reinforcement of patient/doctor and customer/dispenser value is what will really be the payoff for those who believe that offering patients convenient options, extending the choices (and hours) when patients can interact with their practices and encouraging “real,” not “virtual” fit by presenting on-location fitting and adjustments by optical experts is the way to firm up the bond.

This trend does not take away other challenges for ECPs, opticians, optical retailers (big or small) facing online eyewear competition.

But it feels like 2014 is the year that things have “tumbled over” in the online eyewear realm. Those companies who are out there offering e-commerce “back end” solutions for retailers and ECPs have noticed the upturn in interest. As one said to VM, “We used to be the ones reaching out; now we’re fielding many more calls coming in.”

In fact, the convergence of technology for online sales as well as the advent of retail technology to enliven and create buzz and new ideas within physical optical retail stores are both probably one of the more intriguing changes for our industry.

Will they disrupt traditional boundaries? Yes. Do they create a series of new decisions for suppliers and service providers who want to preserve pricing integrity and brand “stories”? Probably.

But it’s a sign of progress toward something new. Something that patients and consumers are looking for. And that’s usually something good for business.  

maxelrad@jobson.com