Why Are Online Prescription Eyewear Sales Proliferating?
Question: What are the chances of today's prescription eyewear consumers getting a hands-on, customized fitting of their prescription eyewear? If you answer this question correctly, you know why consumers are buying their eyewear online.
As an example, here's a letter from a consumer after visiting our Web site, OpticianryToday.com.
"I was 9 (*cough, cough!* an eon ago!) - I can't remember actually being "fitted" with my glasses in years and years. Thank you for this reminder that it SHOULD be done this way. Perhaps if dispensaries had continued these practices I wouldn't have felt so aggrieved at continually and gasp-inducing rising prices of eyewear. To such an extent, in fact, that the last pairs of glasses I've gotten, I purchased online. (Hope you were sitting down for that! I wouldn't want to be the cause of a heart attack. :-) ) No, I didn't get fitted, obviously, but I got exactly the same product - AND service - I would have gotten at any local shop, for so much less money that I was able to buy three pairs of glasses for about a third of the price I'd have paid in person. Anyway, thanks for sharing this."
So, this consumer's experience suggests the reason for the proliferation of online prescription eyewear sales is not so much about lower prices as it is about adequate personalized hands-on-the-patient services. --
Coming from the old-fashioned world of Opticianry, it really saddens me that today is all about sales. Gone are the days of one-on-one frame-fitting, and guiding patients through the process. I have even come across people who never knew they were wearing progressives!! This is totally outrageous. They tell me they were only told they will be able to see up close with their new glasses, but it was never explained in any detail what they were getting. This has happened more than once.
I can see why the visitor to your site, OpticianryToday.com, felt no difference buying online rather than at a location. It angers me that the word "fitting" is not even recognizable to him. As Opticians, we need to man up and go back to basics before the Internet takes over what we alone are trained to do.
Thanks for the eye opening. I will take it as an encouragement to keep doing my old-fashioned fitting and dispensing, and hope it does make a difference. --
NEWS FLASH! Let's look at what is being done. Old fashioned, tactile, hands-on-the-patient dispensing of customized eyewear has declined to the extent that the Florida Board of Opticianry recently enacted a rule requiring all future applicants for licensure to undergo a minimum of 2 CE hours of experiential frame-fitting directly on a living subject. --
Why would you let a non-licensed plumber do your plumbing or an electrician wire your home? I wouldn't. Same reason I wouldn't order glasses online. I can't fit my head into my computer for adjustments? Is my bridge the same size as that of another person? Nationalities have different needs. I know I do. We are all customized from the day we were born, so why shouldn't our eyewear be? If you do not interview, feel, touch, measure, fit the glasses before you take the measurements, as well as after, how do you know how to interpret the Rx and what the patient's needs are? How many times have you talked to your patients and asked them, "What do you want your glasses to do?" Can a computer talk back, discuss their problems, and come up with solutions? Sorry, I am from the old school of hands-on people! Get real! I love my job and no computer is going to replace me until I am ready to say goodbye! --
We, as Opticians, need to reduce reliance on buying products from Big Optical giants such as Luxottica. Personally I stopped dealing with them years ago out of frustration with the high costs of the branded eye wear and extremely poor service (in my case anyway...waiting up to 6 months for a full order to come in). We also need to think about why it is that the public values our skills so little? -- See Sticker Shock Specs on '60 Minutes'.
The absence of customized, personalized, handcrafted, hands-on the patient, eyewear fitting, which is practiced by too few of today's Opticians is the reason you're seeing the emergence of corporate behemoths like Luxottica.
What happened over the last 55 years is that our markup used to cover our frames-lenses-lab costs, PLUS our professional service fees, including in-depth lifestyle interview; Optician-assisted frame-lens design and selection; HANDCRAFTED delivery of eyewear; and free lifetime adjustment and minor repair services.
And while organized Opticianry, what there was of it at the time including the Guild, were fast asleep along with the other two Os, corporate interests seized on the marketing of fashion-only, unrelated-to-vision-healthcare, merchandi$ing aspects of the industry. Bigger and bigger corporate interests began promoting the selling of merchandise-only, i.e., minus most or all of the all-important vision care services. They pocketed the margins that we used to receive for our professional services, i.e., in-depth lifestyle interview; Optician-assisted frame-lens design and selection; HANDCRAFTED delivery of eyewear; and free lifetime adjustment and minor repair services. (What a ripe $ plum!)
The downward spiral continued because larger and larger corporations, with bottom-line only considerations, would hire entry level only sales clerks to dispense their merchandise, while lowering their costs. With these actions coporations began replacing experienced Opticians, i.e., skilled Eyewear Healthcare Professionals, whereby they pocketed the margins that Opticians historically made as their income. Now, we have the phased and rapid movement of the industry into the Internet. (For me, this is deja vu all over, again! Nice effective corporate strategy, huh?)
My point is that we have met the enemy and the enemy is us! The 3 O's have COLLECTIVELY created this market by becoming apathetic and by not taking care of business, i.e., the Patient always comes first. We lost our groove. We got too focused on things other than our primary mission, which is to serve the public, not to make lots of money. Not that making a good living is wrong, but that our mission of service must come first, and our income comes second. THIS IS OUR GROOVE. We got it backwards, and lost our groove.
Now we face a long, painful road, but very simple truth, to get our groove back. It all starts with making the Patient king; in-depth lifestyle interview; Optician-assisted frame-lens design and selection; HANDCRAFTED delivery of eyewear; and free lifetime adjustment and minor repair services. Stay tuned. --
Everyone is worried about the economy and I understand all of that. But should we cut costs on something as important as our vision? Our eyes help us see, and who would not want the best vision possible? We only have one set of eyes and everyone needs to take care of them. Our daily existence depend on them. I think online shopping for glasses is ridiculous. After people get them online they want to take them and have them repaired and adjusted at a business where others are waiting to get their hands-on experience. I could write a book about all the experiences I have had working in all aspects of the Optical Industry. I am absolutely amazed. People have gotten to the point they shop for glasses like they are shopping for a shirt off the rack somewhere. They definitely are not helping the economy or themselves by purchasing online. I love the work I do and I enjoy it tremendously and I enjoy helping people see. As Opticians we need to help the consumer understand how important it is to get the correct and proper eyewear for their prescriptions. The industry has changed over the years and I am concerned about our profession. I can't understand why some states are not licensed to fit glasses, but require a license to do hair or nails. That's another story in itself. --
Buying online does not necessarily mean that a consumer will get their eyewear any less expensively, and when you add in the extras, shipping, etc., they often pay more. And the consumer does not get the professional fitting, eyeglass measurements, optics in the lenses that are called for, and more. And they are led to believe they are paying less. I think that all optical shops should now begin having an online business; to answer questions and sell accessories and continue with their walk-in optical. Some consumers are just not educated; when it comes to seeing a Licensed Optician. It is clearly a lack of knowledge. Unfortunately, we are only given one pair of eyes and as Licensed Opticians we need to make the public aware. -- See GlassesOnlineWarning.com.
That consumers, even many long-time eyeglass wearers, are convinced that they can have their eyewear fit comfortably absent any human touch... "What a revolting development." But this occurs because WE have not been 'educating' the consumer, i.e., providing 'touch-and-feel,' Discovery, Design and Delivery of their prescription eyewear for several generations.
I know, I know, I hear it all the time, "But we HAVE BEEN providing hands-on fitting services!" Yes, some of us old-school Opticians still exist, but our number is too small and our art-craft is disappearing. Our industry needs to get latter-day Opticians back to old-fashioned 'touch-and-feel' dispensing. Without it, we cannot offer the consumer a good reason to patronize our dispensaries instead of the Web-based eyeglass merchants.
And we must stop whining, feeling sorry for ourselves, and ignoring the reality of our 50 year plus history of providing poor, or no-handcrafted fitting services. In a word, we have to resurrect CRAFTSMANSHIP. Give the consumer a reason to return to our dispensaries.
Recently a woman came into my dispensary asking if we adjust glasses for free, which of course, we are happy to do. She then produced a brand new pair of glasses she had just received from an online merchant for me to fit for her. Immensely frustrating for me, someone who prides herself on "specializing" in custom fitting eyewear. My fifteen years of experience and expertise, culminating in spending fifteen minutes fitting someone else glasses. Apparently the Web site had recommended just "popping in" to any optical shop for a fitting. I wonder if we ought not to be charging a fee for such a service, or just hope that in that little bit of time we can make such a great impression on the person that they become a future customer? Seems a little tenuous to me. (See more below.) --
I feel your pain. When you are adjusting her eye wear, did you mention "Gosh you bought them online?" "I am happy to adjust these; but since we did not make them, I can't be responsible for the optics being off or the condition / treatment or lack of on these lenses or the frame. If the frame breaks while I am adjusting them, it is not my responsibility to replace them." Thinking out loud... maybe there is a waiver form we should have these customers sign before we adjust their glasses. And I would like to add... I worked at one clinic where we charged $2 for adjustments. Just be nice and friendly and full of knowledge. They will come back. --
The reality is that most Opticians have historically included (before Web merchants) free-of-charge lifetime adjustments. Some even include free-of-charge minor repairs, nose pad replacements, temple covers, etc., for their patrons.
In the case of online purchasers that I'm aware of, consumers pay Web-based merchants less, i.e., minus the usual Optician's fitting fees, and any other qualitative service fees. (Some online purchasers pay higher prices online. Buyer beware!)
Here's what I would do when online purchasers of prescription eyewear present themselves for services: Adopt a 'tough love' attitude. You are there to serve, but you're an Optician, not just to serve people, but to make an honest, living wage, as well.
Question: Would you expect an auto mechanic, plumber, dentist, etc,. to donate their services simply because you chose to acquire service from somebody (a Web-based merchant) who is incapable of providing any follow-up services?
Let's be real. The online purchaser, who gets a 'bargain' should not expect nor be given more consideration as to your time and expertise than your full-pay regular patron. And they are certainly not deserving of comparable, free lifetime services. However, in all fairness, if you choose to accept online purchasers at no charge, they deserve the best service you have to offer.
I recommend charging online purchasers a fee commensurate with whatever you determine your time is worth. I recommend posting a high-visibility disclaimer briefly announcing a nonrefundable minimum fee of $25.00 (?) along with a giving a verbal explanation of your policy to each online purchaser disavowing responsibility for any unsatisfactory design of eyewear, any consequential lens chipping or frame breakage that occurs, or the discovery of any problematic Rx issues. Any repairs requiring additional time or expense to fix would be subject to extra fees. Furthermore, I recommend charging a $25.00 (?) fee for measuring a PD.
These actions will hopefully help Opticians regain market share. The slow and steady decline in our service to the public has happened over several decades. It will take awhile to restore, but we must start somewhere.
"Hi, I'm an independent management consultant from the UK working with UK opticians and optical businesses. I stumbled across your site whilst researching a 'professional seeling' course Iam writing for _________ Opticians. I just wanted to say what a pleasure it has been to read your views and opinions on the challenges faced by professional opticians in light of the burgeoning Internet and 'bucket shop' optical market. We suffer the same problems in the UK as you report: devaluation of the profession, commercialization for its own sake, a focus on cost ratherthan value etc. I wish you the very best in disseminating your professional viewpoint, and hope that you are enjoying ever-increasing support from US professional opticians who truly understand the nature of opticianry. Kind regards, I. S." --
"Opticianry is defined by how well the eyewear makes contact with the patient.
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