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Wednesday / August 17.
HomemibusinessContact Lens Online: Strategies for Success

Contact Lens Online: Strategies for Success

When it comes to dispensing contact lenses, the internet provides eye care professionals with intense competition. However whether you let those internet sales erode your business – or whether you adapt and profit – is entirely up to you.

When I speak with my colleagues in Australia and New Zealand, more and more, I hear the question: “Why should I get my lenses from you when I can just buy them online?” It’s certainly not a new question here in the U.S.A. Patients have been buying contact lenses online in significant numbers for more than 10 years. Yet, even with that amount of time, online sales ‘only’ account for about 20 per cent of all contact lens sales.

I emphasise ‘only’ for a few reasons.First, of course, I wish it was zero per cent. Next, if there were ever a commodity product in eye care, a box of contact lenses would have to be it. After all, virtually everything a patient needs to know to order lenses is on the box! And unlike a product like clothing, there is no ‘try on’ necessary since the patient already has assurances that the lenses fit.

Why then, haven’t online sales here taken an even larger slice of the contact lens sales pie and how can we capitalise on the factors that have it growing so slowly?

Pricing

Retail lens pricing by optical retail outlets to patients has steadily decreased over the last few years. This has made the price differential from most of the biggest internet players close to being irrelevant.
To combat the decreasing margins, we’ve advocated our clients continually increase their professional fees. This strategy has proven effective at stabilising and then increasing practitioner profits. It has also helped to curb online sales.

After all, if pricing is close to the same from an internet supplier and your practice, patients should readily get lenses from you. If they still don’t, and your pricing really is in the same zone, then frankly, you have other issues to deal with.

Services

If patients need a pair of lenses to hold them over until their next examination, will you supply them? Most practitioners will (and should). Will you exchange lenses that are defective? What if an Rx changes? Fit changes? Ripped lenses? If you sit with your staff, you can probably come up with four or five additional points of difference between the services you offer compared to an online seller. Make sure your patients are aware of these differences before they get to your sales counter and you’ll have fewer patients asking for their Rx.

Immediate Delivery

Inventorying lenses went out of favour with the advent of disposable lenses. However, keeping a modest, intelligently chosen stock of your ‘go to’ lenses is a great way to combat online sellers. Nothing could be more convenient for a patient than approaching your front desk and having your staff member say: “Here is your yearly supply of lenses.” Shopping over, game over.

Relative to this concept is the promotion of dispensing annual supplies to patients. I wrote about this previously and suffice it to say, it’s a great way, if not the best way to combat internet sellers.

Finally, just as eyewear is now available online along with prescription drugs, cars, nappies and just about anything else, another great strategy is to get your own practice online.

Let patients know your practice is up-to-date with technology by offering them the alternative to buy lenses online – from you! However, keep this important point in mind… If you are seeing a lot of orders going through your own website, that isn’t necessarily a good thing. It might mean that you aren’t dispensing as many annual supplies from your own practice inventory as you could be. We like to have our clients shoot for a goal of dispensing 40 per cent of all patient orders as an annual supply – directly from their practice inventory.

Obviously, the internet isn’t going to disappear, however, how you choose to deal with it is something that can make your practice slowly fade away – or when handled correctly and proactively, grow and thrive.

Dr. Gary Gerber is the founder and president of The Power Practice (www.PowerPractice.com), a practice building and consulting company with a mission to make doctors more profitable and efficient by introducing innovative strategies and techniques.