4 tips for competing with online retailers

July 8, 2016
Experts share tips to take down the competition.

Excerpted from page 14 of the June 2016 edition of  AOA Focus.

Purchasing glasses online can seem like a good deal to patients: They just send off their prescription and get a potentially cut-rate pair of glasses delivered to their doorstep. What they don't know is that the prescription might be incorrect, the fit could be wrong and the frames might be made of substandard materials.

Use these tips to ensure patients continue to get their eyewear from the most trusted source.

  1. In the exam, offer solutions to problems.
    Most patients don't understand the value of high-quality frames and premium lens options, says Steve Vargo, O.D., MBA, vice president of optometric consulting at Prima Eye Group. So, let them know during the exam.

    "When a patient mentions distortion in his or her conventional progressive lenses, educate him or her on high-definition digital progressive lenses. If the patient mentions glare driving at night, educate him or her on premium anti-reflective coating. Get the patient's mind off of price and onto value."

  2. Educate patients about the relationship between custom fit and prescriptive needs.
    Patients may not know that lenses that aren't measured accurately will cause blurry vision or eye strain. Explain that buying eyeglasses properly fitted by an eye doctor is an investment in their health.

    Neil Gailmard, O.D., MBA, chief optometric officer of IDOC and CEO of Gailmard Eye Center, tells patients, "I believe you'll get the best results with glasses that are fitted and measured in person. The low prices you see online are tempting, but we have some excellent low-priced options here in our office, too."

  3. Create an attractive dispensary and offer top-notch customer service.
    "Patients would rather buy glasses from their optometrist," Dr. Gailmard says. "We already have their trust."

    Dr. Vargo recommends having staff ask about any vision problems when the patient calls to make the appointment.

    "Train your staff to say, 'I'm so sorry to hear that. Make sure to ask the doctor about X product at your exam.' When the patient arrives, they will be thinking about a solution to a problem as opposed to how much money they can save."

  4. Sell a maintenance plan.
    Instead of talking patients out of an online purchase, offer them an annual maintenance plan for adjustments, says Gilan Cockrell, O.D., CEO of the Williams Group, which provides optometric consulting services.

    At his practice, it's $65 per year.

    "Now I've removed the whole stigma that we're providing a service that has no value," he says. "Maintaining the glasses has a large value, and when I said $65 per year, that triggered the thought in the patient's mind that there's a lot more to the cost of these glasses than just the material costs."

    Also, he knows there's a good chance online shoppers won't have a good experience.

    "So the next time," Dr. Cockrell says, "they'll probably want to purchase them from you with no reservations at all because you didn't put them in a position of feeling like they are subhuman because they purchased them online before."
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