The Four Ways Your Optometric Practice Is Being Disrupted By Eyeglass Retailers

It’s no secret that optometric practices are facing a lot of economic challenges ranging from low-quality product driving prices down, disruptive retailers, the influence of managed care, and changing insurance rules. To the patient, these market pressures are invisible. They see a full set of glasses for $99 and wonder why yours are $600. They see bundled pricing at the disruptor, Warby Parker, and don’t understand your coatings or line items. They see contacts that just magically arrive in the mail and wonder why you don’t offer an e-commerce experience.

As people who work in this industry, we’re sometimes too close to the forest to see the trees. Let me break down my recent visit to eyeglass purveyor, Warby Parker, and why it’s so effectively disruptive. We can all learn from what they are doing.

4 Tips For Dealing With Your Optometric Practice Disrupters

disruptDisruptive Factors Affecting your Optometric Practice

Brick and mortar locations are in places Millennials want to be. You may be thinking they are fools for opening up stores in pricey retail locations, and on paper, you’d be right. The stores are spacious, well-designed, modern, and stocked with people who can look at your face and find the best frame in 10 seconds flat. It’s a very good experience. It does not feel clinical. It feels like high-end retail.

  • Your practice management takeaway: Align to today’s shoppers. Survey your demographic to find out what is important to them and deliver that in the most pleasant way possible.

Cool styles and swarm factor. Who goes shopping for glasses with their friends? Warby Parker stores are packed with shoppers of all ages. I even saw a couple on a date picking out glasses. Who does that? The stores in Austin are packed with people buying glasses on impulse. Like a new haircut or color, glasses are an accessory you can shop for with your friends and even strangers who will happily chime in on your potential selection.

  • Your practice management takeaway: Be inviting to walk-ins and try things like frame shopping happy hours.

All-inclusive pricing. I was quoted $269 for progressive lenses, coating, and frames. As someone who works in the industry, I’m thinking about the quality and what coatings they are including. As someone who is a consumer, I’m thinking “this is an easy and pretty affordable way to add a new style.”

  • Your practice management takeaway: Keep it simple, keep the explanations clear and concise. Offer discounts on sunglasses and a second pair. Understand the patient's lifestyle.

It’s as fast or slow as you want it to be. You pick a frame, they fit your face, you hand over your prescription, and you’re gone. Or you can try on frames at home and live with them for a while before committing. Of course, shoppers there have to do their own insurance filing, which will not be fun later. 

  • Your practice management takeaway: Provide the kind of practice workflow that aligns with your patient demographic. If you’re in an urban location, create events to promote drop-ins at lunch or after work hours. Be adaptable. If you think outside the box a little, you’ll think of things you can do to give your patients a high-end experience. Don't forget to remind them that you're taking away the hassle of filing for insurance.

Lessons Learned From Visiting The Disruptor

So, what else can we learn from Warby Parker?

  1. It’s still an experiment. Venture capital makes those expensive retail locations possible. If they had to pay the rent based on the walk-in sales, I suspect it would be very hard to pull off their experience in the locations they choose. They invest in those stores to build a brand.
  2. Warby Parker is targeted toward millennials and those who wish they were. If this is your patient demographic, you need to pay attention to what they are doing and how they are doing it.
  3. Experiences can, and should, be designed for the behavior you want.If you want more impulse buys, arrange your optical area like a boutique, have frame fashion shows, send out mailers with seasonal new frames, bundle for simplicity, and invite people to bring their friends. Promote frames that fit the needs of your practice’s demographic.
  4. Your clinical education is a value-add. 
    More than just a pair of glasses, educate the patient. Try not to use jargon. My OD explained the difference in lenses to me in a very simple way that allowed me to upsell myself. (Of course, I want that fancy coating!) Warby Parker doesn’t do that for their clients, and it’s pretty much one-size-fits-all once you pick a frame.

Part of your practice management might be to have your next patient email or blog post cover how lenses, coatings, and frames combine to become an awesome fashion statement. Do what your competitors don’t, and don’t be afraid to be loud about it. You provide a level of service the retailers cannot.

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Editor's Note: This post was originally published on March 29, 2017. It has been updated for relevance and richness of content on September 23, 2019.
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