The optical market is fracturing. Some consumers value their optometrist as a medical professional and are prepared to pay top dollar for a complete consultation and premium specs. Others view a visit to the optometrist as a necessary evil, but the more bang for their buck they get – regardless of the quality, the better they feel. So which way will you go in your business? Which is the path to long term success?
According to retail consultant and futurologist Dr. Ian Pearson, the cost of glasses is only going one way – and that’s down. In an effort to compete, Australian suppliers are increasingly outsourcing lenses and frames from overseas… so they can pass them on to customers at a lower price.
As an optometrist, you have two choices before you. The first is that you can choose to head down the price spiral and compete dollar-for-dollar, like-for-like, with the price barons whose pockets are as deep as the English Channel. Secondly, you can attempt to hold your line on price but back up your offering with a different, higher level of personal eye care service.
The choice, as they say in the classics, is yours.
To deliver quality care, you must be right next to the person consuming your service
Fortunately for the Australian and New Zealand optical retail markets, we can learn from those who have gone before us.
In many Asian countries the optical market is extremely price driven. Most consumers have little appreciation for their optometrist as a medical professional. In fact, they don’t see a visit to their optometrist as a medical experience at all. They simply want cheap glasses – despite the fact that conditions such as myopia are on the increase.
In the U.K., consumers headed down the cheap and cheerful path but they soon learned their lesson. According to Dr. Pearson “It used to be the case that U.K. consumers would buy their glasses from the optician who tested their eyes. Then the industry fragmented. A whole lot of companies entered the market and started to offer really cheap glasses. As a result, consumers would have their eyes tested then take their prescription with them, up and down the high street, to shop around to get the best price. Or they’d go on the internet to buy the cheapest glasses. They didn’t worry about the health of their eyes.
“Over time, the trend started to reverse. Consumers began to realise the benefit of establishing a relationship with their optometrist, and of receiving personal service from a one stop shop.”
Successful optometrists in the U.K. are now experiencing renewed support and they’re responding to it by offering customers comprehensive eye care that makes use of the latest technology.
“Consumers have realised that it isn’t just about getting the cheapest glasses from someone who has a piece of technology they’ve purchased off the ‘net. It’s about getting your eyes tested properly by someone who looks after you and who cares about your look. It’s also about striking up and maintaining a positive relationship with a specialist who cares that your eyes are in good condition.”
Adding Value is Essential
The U.K. situation is clearly the most advantageous for the industry and consumers – after all, who could deny that well managed eye care is beneficial to the long-term health of both the population and the economy?
Indeed, Mr. Pearson believes the future of eye care in Australia is all about delivering personal and professional service that fills your customer with confidence.
He calls it the ‘care economy’ and says it’s something the eye care professions and associated industries in Australia (as well as every other industry) need to seriously consider to ensure their survival.
“In most countries, about 20 per cent of people already work in jobs which are directly care related. Teachers, nurses, optometrists, police – they’re definitely caring jobs and they can’t be outsourced to other countries.
“It’s not an overnight thing, but as manufacturing is increasingly outsourced, I believe the care economy will grow in relevance. It’s one thing we can’t import.
“To deliver quality care, you must be right next to the person consuming your service,” Dr. Pearson says.
At What Price?
Dr. Pearson says that while price does have an influence on purchasing decisions, when it comes toobtaining optical services, most consumers are influenced by the whole package; the experience, having somewhere the kids can play, an optometrist they can relate to, a great range of frames and after sales care.
“Increasingly, as the costs of production, and materials for lenses and frames falls, the cost of a pair of glasses will come from the human caring side of the service you receive. Having someone you trust do your eye test, knowing they’re doing a really good job and that they’re going to pick up any problems; walking out confident that you’re in good health and you’re also looking quite stylish – most people don’t mind paying a bit more for that.
“Customers will pay extra for the human experience and the security you offer them. In marketing terms, you could refer to it as paying a premium for the values represented by your business brand.”