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Brick & Click

By John Sailer: Senior Editor

View a pdf of Brick & Click

There’s no ignoring it. Internet retailing is an essential part of everyday life. It even has its own day, CyberMonday, right at the start of the holiday shopping season. Against last year’s lingering economic uncertainty, 2011 proved that e-commerce is still growing. “Throughout the year, growth rates versus the prior year remained in double digits to significantly outpace growth at brick-and-mortar retail,” according to comScore’s digital business analytics. “Retail e-commerce (non-travel) spending jumped 13 percent to $161.5 billion for the year.”

The optical field has been slower to adapt the e-commerce model, eyeglasses in particular. According to the 2011 Vision Council VisionWatch Internet Influence Report, “Despite a relatively high number of consumers using the internet to some extent when shopping for general retail goods, the practice is still not as prevalent when consumers are shopping for eyewear… Approximately 32 percent of people using the internet to assist in their last purchase of eyewear actually made the purchase directly online. By category: eyeglasses (2.4 percent), OTC readers (3 percent), plano sunglasses (4.3 percent) and contact lenses (16.4 percent)… It is likely that close to 1.5 million to 1.7 million pairs of Rx eyeglasses were purchased online during the 12-month period ending December 2011.”

To some extent, optical being slow to adapt to e-commerce is due to the fact that eyewear is customized for each individual and doesn’t lend itself to commoditization. This is also in part because manufacturing and distribution involve a chain of materials suppliers and manufacturers and a hierarchy of professionals. However, many online-only optical retailers are overcoming these obstacles by building their own optical labs and sending their customers actual frames to try on before making their final selection.

This month’s Cover Story attempts to capture a panoramic screenshot of online optical retailing, from how traditional brick-and-mortar stores are dipping their PD sticks into this tsunami of internet activity (“When Will Brick Add Click,”) to how online-only dispensers are addressing the needs of a customer who is also a patient with a unique prescription (“Online Retailers Talk Shop,” page 44); from the latest Vision Council statistics that corroborate the fact that “the number of buyers who will use the internet to buy eyewear in the future will increase” (“Vision Council Internet Report,” to websites that provide consumers with the best of both worlds of brick and click, launching distribution models that sync up the online world with traditional dispensers (“Brick and Click Sync Up,”).