Online Eyewear Sales

Jamie Shyer of Zyloware chaired The Vision Council Frames Division Meeting a couple of weeks ago in Las Vegas and he did not waste anytime getting our attention with a very hot subject! The main topic of this meeting was a an Online Eyewear Sales Panel discussion. The panel consisted of Ed De Gennaro of Vision Care Product News,  Hal Wilson of CyberEyes VTO (Virtual Try On) and Mark Agnew of Eyeglasses.com.

It was very interesting so I would like to share some of the key points that were made by the panel members and participants from the optical industry. The panel talked about how Blockbuster lost control of the in-home DVD/video market to companies like Netflix and Redbox out of fear of change when they could have embraced the Online change and held market share. Also mentioned was the fact that  veterinary professionals have lost a vast market to Online companies like PetMeds. With these examples in mind the following points were made

  • We must not lose sight of that fact that it is the consumer who is in control, not us (manufacturers and retailers)!
  • Most eyewear consumers are using to the Internet for information not necessarily to make a purchase but to examine brands, types of eyewear, find optical retailers, compare prices, customer reviews and where to buy
  • There are over 200 online eyewear sites although the majority of sales are from just 2 or 3 companies
  • About 7% of all retail sales (all consumer products not just eyewear) are on line VS <1% of eyewear sales online
  • Very few eyewear brands have the power to drive Internet sales alone
  • Only a small number of Rx sales are made on the Internet currently but the forecast is that this could grow to 12/14% as technology becomes more user friendly

Everyone involved in the panel discussion emphasized that all optical retailers, must have an Internet and Social Media presence. The Internet can actually be a benefit to even the smallest retailer as it opens up the market. A good website with good photography, the right links and engaging tools are essential. An engaging and user friendly website can help bring optical customers to a retail location.

One of the biggest fears voiced is the dreaded online “price shopping” but with thousands or different frame styles, brands and lens permutations it is not that easy for a consumer to price shop more than a few brands. We have to look at how we can make online eyewear shopping, information gathering etc.,  a better experience for the optical consumer and what we can do to embrace it rather than fear it.

The future might be that optical customers can input information, preselect frames, colors and lenses but will still purchase at a retail location. Whatever it is, we do agree that having an Internet and Social Marketing presence is a must and staying current with how this is changing is just as important.

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Comments

  1. Don’t be a sheep. See online glasses for what they really are: a way around state dispensing laws designed to protect society.

    Join them at your own ethics’ peril.

  2. Dear “concerned”;

    As a rep for one of the sites contributing to online prescription eyeglass sales, I can assure you that the motivation has nothing to do with state dispensing laws. Rather our goal is to save the customer from paying inflated prices on a necessary product.

    Traditional ECP’s should not fear the internet, on the contrary they should embrace it as a means to enhance their own business. Companies like mine are not the enemy no more than Amazon was to book stores or Zappos was to shoe stores. Take Barnes and Noble for example which, faced with the Amazon threat years ago successfully launched their won site that works in cooperation with their stores.

    Consumers want to save as much as they can, especially these days. Without compromising quality, it is possible these days for the consumer to pay a fraction of what they would using vision care benefit plans to buy in store.

    The in industry is changing and 15% of sales being done online in a few years is only the tip of the iceberg – if ECP’s learn to embrace that, they too can change and adapt their businesses like Barnes and Noble did.

    BTW – regarding quality, please contact the good people at The Optical Vision Site for my email address and get in contact with me. I will give you a free pair of anything you wish with whatever prescription you want. You will see why so many who shop online, come back and invite their friends.

  3. Thanks for your comments Jay, I think we could all benefit from learning more about how to “embrace” online sales in the optical industry and will be looking for expert advice on how the ECPs can be major participants. Thanks for the B&N example, maybe you could help us see how that would translate into a model for eyewear.

  4. Dear Mr./Dr. Engelmayer:

    As I don’t know the company that you represent, I will speak to the part of the industry that I have some familiarity.

    Essilor, with the largest segment of the lens market, is not content with their market share and rather than continuing to do battle with their competitors, an area that they have shown expertise far beyond their technical achievements, has decided instead to try and bypass the 3’O network by purchasing Frames Direct.

    It is not unlikely that they will shift business from their lens competitors to their own brands,ie: Essilor, Varilux, Kodak, Signet-Armorlite, Shamir, KBCO and probably a host of other names that I don’t recall or never knew.

    I question whether or not Essilor, through Frames Direct, has intimidated frame suppliers to discount or otherwise contribute money or product to Essilor’s retail efforts.

    Europtics, the company that I have significant ownership in, has two websites: europtics.net, supporting our brick & mortar venues in Denver, CO and eoptics.com for our online portal. Our online store sells at the same price as our brick & mortar stores but there is no discounting from our price lists online in accordance with contractual obligations with several manufacturers. Eoptics.com does not accept any insurance. We are still very much learning our way in internet selling and this part of our business is still small as compared with Europics stores.

    Mr./Dr. Engelmayer, I’m not denigrating your products, but I know that some online sellers are processing their lenses in China and are contributing to the off shoring of American jobs. The Chinese optical products that I often see are little more than junk. If the consumer that buys this product thinks that he/she is getting a BMW for the price of a KIA, caveat emptor.

    I, for one would like to see your product and know your retail prices. I would be happy to submit my completed product as compared with yours to independent analysis. May I suggest that the people at Optical Vision Site either perform the analysis or submit it to someone else for their appraisal. If Cathy or Shirley are unavailable, how about Mark Shupnick?

    Touche,
    Ira Haber
    President, Europtics,Inc.

  5. Hi Mr or Dr. Haber, Please call me Jay,

    I agree that there is a problem with many online companies selling poorly crafted, off the shelf lenses. My grandmother used to tell me that if it looks too good to be true, it is – and prescription eyeglasses for $6.95 as some sites are selling them for is just such an example.

    Quality glasses starts with quality lenses made by a reputable company – but that does not mean they have to be expensive. The reason online sites like mine can sell glasses for less than a brick and mortar has more to do with overhead AND the fact that we deal with the lab directly (and we use a very reputable one at that) and do not need to pay for the lens, for the glazing, for the coatings separately – most ECP’s see their orders touch the hands of several others, and with each step in the manufacturing process you have to add on money to the “cost”. You know what the costs are – the finger should really be pointed to those that set up this archaic structure and not legitimate online companies.

    As to the cost of frames, with the exception of name brands the costs are reasonable and the markup does not have to be that high as online companies can take a smaller profit by working on larger volume.

    I would be happy to conduct this challenge with you – at the end of the day we are working towards the same thing, doing what is best for the customer and I would welcome the opportunity to prove that a pair of Glasses from a good online company can stack up to that of an offline one.

    Please ask Shirley for my contact information and I will be happy to comply. Perhaps we can learn from each other and direct the attention at the monopolistic companies that are really the ones hurting the ECP’s.

  6. Hi Mr or Dr. Haber, Please call me Jay,

    I agree that there is a problem with many online companies selling poorly crafted, off the shelf lenses. My grandmother used to tell me that if it looks too good to be true, it is – and prescription eyeglasses for $6.95 as some sites are selling them for is just such an example. They give my business a bad name and if anything, drive those who try online glasses back to the stores.

    Quality glasses starts with quality lenses made by a reputable company – but that does not mean they have to be expensive. The reason online sites like mine can sell glasses for less than a brick and mortar has more to do with overhead AND the fact that we deal with the lab directly (and we use a very reputable one at that) and do not need to pay for the lens, for the glazing, for the coatings separately – most ECP’s see their orders touch the hands of several others, and with each step in the manufacturing process you have to add on money to the “cost”. You know what the costs are – the finger should really be pointed to those that set up this archaic structure and not legitimate online companies.

    As to the cost of frames, with the exception of name brands the costs are reasonable and the markup does not have to be that high as online companies can take a smaller profit by working on larger volume.

    I would be happy to conduct this challenge with you – at the end of the day we are working towards the same thing, doing what is best for the customer and I would welcome the opportunity to prove that a pair of Glasses from a good online company can stack up to that of an offline one.

    Please ask Shirley for my contact information and I will be happy to comply. Perhaps we can learn from each other and direct the attention at the monopolistic companies that are really the ones hurting the ECP’s.

  7. Hello Dear Shirley,

    I would be happy to have a discussion on how an offline company can enhance their business by going online. The ECP is certainly not a dying breed, but many of them need to become current and accept that times are changing. My company cannot replace a traditional ECP – and we don’t want to either. We don’t want to be the number one seller of eyeglasses – we just strive to be number one online.

    Please let me know the hows and whats and whens and I will be happy to comply and do the best I can to help.

  8. Here is an example of an ECP integrating an online experience with an existing practice by developing an iPhone app and web presence for patients to virtually try on frames, and if they like, order and have them shipped to them without coming in to the store (or, coming in for pick up and having them adjusted):

    http://visionmonday.com/VMNewsletters/ClickNewsletter/tabid/426/content_id/23568/Default.aspx

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