Bain Study Recommends That Independent Optometrists Adapt to Change

BOSTON – “Independent optometrists will need to change their behavior in order to survive,” according to a Bain & Company report titled “Do you see what we see? The future of independent optometry.” The report cites competitive pressures similar to those that have already disrupted other industries such as books, consumer electronics and independent pharmacies. These threats include: “The growth of large national chains and mass players; increased consumer comfort with buying products online; a desire for greater price transparency on products; and a shift from the personalized shopping experience toward more efficient retail environments, as characterized by big-box retailers.”

The study was commissioned by VSP Global “to better understand the marketplace and where it might be going,” said VSP board of directors member Daniel L. Mannen, OD, FAAO, in his As Eye See It blog on the VSP Proves It site In addition, VSP Global CEO Rob Lynch also referred to this VSP-commissioned study during his presentation at a panel discussion on managed care at the recent IDOC Business Conference. According to Pat McNeil, director of global integrated communications at VSP, “VSP commissioned Bain to do this research, which turned into a white paper. We represent 28,000 doctors, and we want to make sure we help them stay in the best possible position to survive.”

The results are based on a variety of primary and secondary research, including a 2010 survey of 6,000 U.S. consumers conducted by Bain & Company, Jobson Research’s 2010 Adult Consumer Eye Exam Experience Survey, the 2010 Visionwatch Survey, Vision Monday’s 2005 and 2010 U.S. Optical Retailer report, the 2009 Hay Group Vision Prevalence survey, a February 2010 Mintel U.K. Market Research Report on “Optical Goods and Eyecare” and Euromonitor’s May 2010 “Eyewear in Australia.”

The report implies that the U.S. may soon experience that which has already occurred overseas: “International markets have experienced shifts to chain retail. In the U.K. alone, Specsavers gained 3.3 percent in compounded annual growth rate between 2007 and 2009, while the independents and small chains actually lost 3.9 percent. As a share of the market, independent optometrists in the U.K. dropped from 45 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in 2009, while the independents lost even more dramatically in Australia when Specsavers entered the market in 2008. Stunningly, the independent share is estimated to have dropped from 73 percent to 55 percent between 2004 and 2009.”

Threats are also coming from online retailing, according to the report, which stated, “The Bain & Company consumer survey revealed that in the coming 12 months, consumers will be willing to do a lot more purchasing, not only from chain retailers, but also online. Forty-one percent said they would purchase contacts online, 22 percent would research products online and 21 percent said they would even purchase glasses online.”

Among the ways that the report suggests independent optometrists might adapt in order to survive are to “increase relevance and consumer trust in the materials they sell” and to “emphasize and further differentiate the quality of care and personal service they offer—service that is unlikely to be matched by their online competitors.”

There is still hope. “Consumers by and large prefer their local independent optometrists for comprehensive eye exams,” according to the report. However, its conclusion implores independent optometrists to “have stronger materials offering, more transparent pricing, online scheduling for exams, availability of materials to buy or pick up easily in store and faster production of new glasses, while continuing to provide the same personalized service that has won them loyalty up to this point,” the report stated.