Some tools seem to last. Take a PD ruler. In any single dispensing day, most of us use the PD ruler as if our professional careers depended on it. We look at our PD rulers as old friends: They’re comfortable, familiar and dependable. But old friends are...well...old, and can rarely offer all of the latest benefits contained in the most up to date technologies. Today, most practices have only just begun to dabble in the newer technologies, and the majority of that is prompted by compliance issues mandated by requirements of electronic health records and vision care plans. For the average practice though, dabbling in “new” dispensary technology often means a tablet or IPad has replaced paper catalogues for current frame style and color information.

But it is important to appreciate how quickly today’s consumer is becoming comfortable with using the web to discover product information and to begin to pre-shopping lenses, frames and even the technologies a practice uses for measuring and dispensing eye glasses. In an ever more digitally-connected world, your next patient will no doubt explore the web well before they come into your office, or even they call for an appointment. Therefore, optimally positioning of yourself to attract this web-savvy customer is best done by monitoring your web presence through the eyes of a prospective consumer.


This is where the today’s consumer begins their digital journey to find a suitable eyecare provider. Although most consumers begin by determining which practices are participating in their vision care plan, their web browsing won’t just stop there. Many local offices participate in these plans, so prospective clients will turn to the practice’s website and social media reviews to get the information they need for determining their best choice. Constant monitoring of all aspects of your practice’s web presence, from Yelp reviews to Facebook pages and posts and more, is therefore grade A priority.


Most practices greet first time clients with a raft of forms that require completion. Although some patient information is class-able as personally-identifiable medical information, and therefore subject to the regulations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a general lifestyle questionnaire, commonly used to assess visual needs, may not be. Consider placing a PDF of this questionnaire on your website for prospective clients to review and complete in advance of their first visit. Not only will this communicate what aspects of their vision needs your practice values, it can help people to clearly formulate and articulate their needs in advance of their first visit. Even if you decline to allow competition of a visual needs form online, consider both the ease and the “Wow” clients will experience when can you hand them an iPad or tablet instead of a form at their first point of contact in your office.


People are increasingly comfortable with making reservations and appointments via the web. It is fair to say that in the not too distant future, web appointing will become the defacto standard. Sure there are and will be logistic problems and hurdles to overcome if you decide to construct your own appointment portal. But an office could also choose to participate in services such as ZocDoc. This company provides a smartphone app to allow people find and appoint for the medical specialty they seek. But it also provides a review venue, which is becoming an essential tool for evaluating prospective providers. In addition, users find attractive the ability to preselect doctors using an insurance participation filter.


There’s no better place than the web for both ECP and consumer to find out the latest information frames, lenses, contact lenses, sunglasses and accessories. The problem is that a consumer can quickly become confused and overwhelmed sorting through all the choices available. And while brick and mortar offices cannot possibly have every item available, they can extend, through their web presence, an invitation for people to inquire about product availability and present your recommended alternate choices. Of course the gorilla in the room is B&M’s fear that low online prices encountered on the web will stack the deck against them. But hidden within lower online prices is a golden opportunity—an opportunity for B&M practices to finally stop giving away professional services for free. How? Consider creating and posting a service fee schedule within your web pages, and start a dialogue about the reasons why online price seem lower. Using simple pricing logic, explain that online prices are lower because they are devoid of all the services you bundle in your store. They have to be lower because they come with less. Further, having a service fee schedule helps attract consumers that otherwise have few choices for buying eyewear services a la carte. And these service-fee customers can potentially become long term clients.

With a growing awareness of digital, “HD” lenses, consumers are beginning to actively seek out a local expert for measuring and fitting. Be sure your webmaster is “search engine optimizing” (SEO) your website to appear on the first search page of local providers who specialize in these technologies and associated name brands. Effective SEO requires overall participation in all facets of social media. If a consumer has bought into or is loyal to a particular brand, it becomes an easy sale when you ensure that the lens brand names you specialize in are prominently displayed on your website.


Shoppers are increasingly turning to websites that offer Virtual Try-On (VTO) in order to pre-select styles of interest to them. But many ECPs feel VTO is a less-than-satisfactory way to shop for frames and sunglasses. Although Virtual Try-On lacks both the ability to evaluate comfort and fit, and is devoid of the value of a stylist’s expert eye and personalized, consultative advice, eye care professionals are well advised to not disparage VTO. Shoppers enjoy trying on styles in the convenience and comfort of their own home, and certainly don’t miss the blurry image that normally accompanies viewing styles without their correction or with their pupils dilated from just exiting the exam room.

Today, an in-office try-on can be as simple as encouraging people to take their “selfie” using the actual frame they are interested in right in your office! Remember: At home VTO can be the beginning, and your in-person consult can be the opportunity to really strut your staff’s special skills.


We’ve all heard of “showrooming,” which is where a prospective buyer first goes into a store to look, touch, handle and try out products they are interested in. They then use their phones to scan the product’s barcode and search for other stores and companies carrying the product, along with their selling prices. This has been considered deadly to the whole idea of local, mom and pop retailers—and B&M optical dispensaries clearly fit this category.

Despite the cries of “the sky is falling” heard from many local merchants, a large number of progressive, forward-thinking retailers are adapting to the marketplace changes accompanying the advent of online. Rather than foe, they see the web as friend. Recognizing that consumers have easy access to extensive product and brand information, they seek to leverage the web instead as a first-contact “partner” in their sales strategy. Besides using SEO for all the brands they specialize in, they are vigilant in ensuring that all manufacturer websites accurately present their practice information in dealer locators. These practices welcome rather than shun web-generated inquires, treating them as valuable as any other customer acquisition method. They are experienced in the give and take of email and message exchanges, and have learned the best ways to convert prospects into purchasers.


This is an important milestone! When someone decides to take the time to visit your store, it’s up to you to wow them now with a 21st century shopping experience. Neat, orderly and attractive frame displays are a must. Use branded point of sale signage and displays to tell the all-important stories. When it comes time to make a personal product consultation, be sure that your tablet has the various frame and lens company catalogues easily bookmarked. Also be sure to download, test and become expert in all the manufacturer product and demonstration apps. These can include various augmented reality apps, which utilize the live camera feed possible in your tablet to demonstrate lens features such as polarization, photochromics, anti-reflection and blue-light blocking coatings, customized progressives, digital HD lenses, other application-specific lens designs.


How could any 21st century optical shopping experience continue to be based around dirty old PD rulers and marking pens? No matter how you personally feel about digital centration devices, the court of public opinion, driven in part by nationwide retailer advertising, has spoken: Prospective shoppers want to know if you employ high-tech digital measuring devices for fitting the latest in digital HD lenses.

Whether you favor a tablet-based or larger DCD, it is essential that you and your staff be comfortable and confident in their use. Properly used, these state of the art measuring systems leave a positive and lasting impression upon the purchaser, conveying that your office is up on the latest technologies.


Apple, I think, does this better than any other major retailer. Recently I went to an Apple store to buy another car adapter for my iPhone. I went to the accessory wall, quickly found the one I needed. Although it was crowed—this store is located in one of the busiest local malls—I quickly caught the eye of a sales associate, who simply swiped my credit card on his phone, verified my personal info, asked if emailing the receipt would be ok, bagged my purchase, and off I went. Let’s review: Busy store, found what I wanted and was out the door in less than three minutes. Now that’s what I call convenience!

You too can employ a portable tablet or phone-based point of sale (POS). Delivering shoppers a high level of convenience will not only be the expected norm, it will be essential to conducting local business in an online age.


Despite all the advantages realized by using digital technologies at the front end of an optical purchase, many offices continue with familiar but inefficient, manually-based ways of ordering and making glasses. Let’s take a look at the digital essentials for the backstory of any optical dispensary.


It is amazing that so many practices continue to pick up the telephone to place orders for their frames and lenses. Especially with customized, position-of-wear optimized lenses, reducing the amount of potential errors that can corrupt an order is extremely important in meeting promised delivery times. Becoming well versed in all the different electronic lens ordering (ELO) portals is mandatory. One of the most important advantages of using an ELO is the ability to upload the actual frame shape and size parameters, which allows for the greatest optimization of the optics and lens thickness. Using each portal is akin to speaking a different dialect, and the best way to obtain mastery is by practice, practice and practice. Once you become comfortable with electronic lens and frame ordering, you’ll wonder how you ever tolerated the inconvenience of long telephone wait times and misunderstood instructions.


Although automatic digital lens meters cannot replace an old, trusted manual lensmeter for qualitative optical evaluation, they are far more accurate and precise than manual models for verifying lens and add powers, especially with higher index/lower Abbé lens materials. When you are slammed out front in busy Saturday, nothing can replace the convenience of a neutralization and print out from an automated lens meter. Most of the latest models can also measure and record UV and overall light transmission, as well as interface with your Practice Management System (PMS) if desired.


Although the jury is still out on whether the following digital notification method is HIPAA compliant, people love getting a text of their freshly-completed eyewear together with the words “We’re ready!” Texting is currently the most preferable way for people to receive notifications. And if a client expresses an interest in a new, yet to be released frame or sunglass, texting them when it arrives is always welcomed as a nice surprise. Besides being far more convenient than retrieving voicemails, texting fosters a level of engagement far more personal, interactive and immersive than a simple phone call.

The traditional way we’ve treated a patient during the eye exam process and subsequent eyewear purchasing experience is broken. Nothing points this out more than the day-to-day convenience and efficiency we experience through our other interactions with the web. Whether making an appointment for car service, requesting that a drug prescription be emailed to our pharmacy, or ordering contacts through a local optical office, limiting customer interaction to the only the telephone is fast becoming obsolete. Customers are becoming trained to expect a slick and sophisticated shopping experience, and will no longer tolerate the long queues for service associated with traditional eyewear shopping. It’s time, eye care professionals to take a long, hard look at how online and digital technologies can help them bring the eye exam and eyewear purchase experience into the 21st century.