Strategies in a Digital Age – eyeHow

The Vision Council organizers put together a great panel for this Executive Summit discussion: Strategies in a Digital Age. The  panel  participants were a really good representation of both the optical industry and internet experience. This panel discussion took place at the January, 2012 Executive  Summit meeting which Cathy and I attended.

Executive Summit Panel: January 2012 - Strategies in a Digital Age

From left to right in the picture above the Strategies in a Digital Age panelists:

  • John Graham – Glasses.com (1 800 Contacts)
  • Aaron Magness – Coastal Contacts
  • Howard Purcell – Essilor/Frames Direct
  • Joe Ellis, OD – AOA
  • Scott MacGuffe – Smith Optics
  • Mike Francesconi – Katz & Klein
  • Claudio Gottardi – Marchon
  • David Plogmann – Luxottica

The companies represented on this panel have a very wide variation in their internet business experience and goals. But they all concurred that it is driven more by the demands of the optical consumer than anything else. Most agreed that the Internet channel is helpful to our industry as it helps provide the consumer with information and marketing.

Some key stats and comments:

  • In 2011 7.5 million people used the Internet in one way or another to purchase eyewear  – from just researching information to actually purchasing online.
  • As far as Rx sales, during 2010 2.2% of purchasing was online and in 2011 it was 2.4%, most of it single vision.
  • Future projections are that up to 15% of Rx sales will be provided online within the next few years.
  • A survey of online eyewear shopping commissioned by the AOA found that 45% of survey respondents were not totally satisfied with their online experience.
  • VSP consumers can order their glasses on the Internet and go to an optical dispensary to pick them up. The demand for this service came from VSP customers, the companies (employers) rather than individuals.
  • Howard (Essilor/Frames Direct) stated that their program is a way for the independent optical practitioner to participate and use it as a tool for patient retention and a virtual option. They manage approximately 1000 independent optical practitioner sites and most of them emphasize patient education.
  • Aaron Magness of Coastal Contacts came from the well known online company Zappos and from his perspective as an Internet marketing expert he strongly believes that the Internet channel will help the optical market not devalue it.
  • Scott MacGuffe of Smith Optics said although most sales are through traditional retailers the Internet has helped to grow the brand and presence. It has helped them expand geographically and make the consumer more aware of the whole product line.

eyeHow Conclusions:

The Strategies in a Digital Age panelists conclusions is that technology has a long way to go before multi-focal eyewear can be provided online in a satisfactory and efficient process. Customers are mainly coming to optical internet sites for information. However, as technology permits there will be more online purchasing. It is another channel of distribution but more importantly a channel of communication and convenience.

The Optical Vision Site is in agreement with most of what the panel said – the consumer always drives the market and that is what should drive any eyecare provider’s strategy. Yes, some optical consumers will want to buy exclusively via the Internet and many of those at a very low price but for many it is not price but they way they like to shop.  Most optical consumers want information, convenience and choices e.g. Online appointment setting, reminders, product selection, virtual try-on etc.  An Internet strategy that provides all of these and more is critical to a successful optical business.

Just in case you missed it, Cathy wrote a great post last week Online Eyewear Myths Debunked which really gets to the meat of the online eyewear issue.

For additional information on The Vision Council’s annual Executive Summit, please contact Rene Soltis-Shepherd, The Vision Council senior director of meetings and education, at rsoltis@thevisioncouncil.org

 

 

 

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