3 Reasons Why Optical Shops Lose Customers (and What to Do About Them)

You know the value your eye care practice provides, and so do your patients—at least when it comes to their medical care. But do you find that after visiting your private dispensary, patients are all too often taking their Rx elsewhere?

For many practitioners, the answer is yes. Discount chains and e-stores are giving ECPs a run for their money, and they are playing off of your patients’ assumptions about private opticals. Carolyn Salvato, Chief Administrative Officer at Loden iVision Centers, points to a persistent disconnect between patient perception and reality. According to Salvato, many consumers believe that the quality of product, level of service, and technical expertise are the same in both retail and private optical. They also think that chain stores and online outlets are significantly more affordable.

Discount chains and e-stores are giving ECPs a run for their money, and they are playing off of your patients’ assumptions about private opticals.

You’re probably thinking that this is nothing new, and you’d be right. ECPs have been combating these same objections for years. The real question is why these stereotypes are so stubborn. Salvato identifies out-of-date sales strategies as likely culprits. Using this technique will help, but some patients will still be tempted by clever advertising and the lure of a deal. In those cases, she advocates a low-pressure, educational approach that shows concern for their well being. Here, a closer look at patient’s most commonly held beliefs and how to (gently!) tell them they’re wrong:

Belief #1: Retail and private optical offer comparable service and professional expertise.

Reality: A lot of patients don’t know that nearly 30 states require absolutely no licensing for opticians. Is your state one of them? If a patient is interested in retail or online options, urge them to verify the qualifications of whoever will be fitting their frames and servicing their lenses. Remind patients that your dispensary employs staff with the proper education, training, and credentials. Retail staff are also experienced—in sales. The majority of are paid on commission and may have little to no optical experience. It’s a gamble.

Belief #2: The local chain store is offering a great two-for-one deal. Glasses are just a few pieces of plastic anyways…

Reality: Patients are mostly in the dark as to how retailers can offer such low prices. Once they are in the door, they find that prices meet or exceed what’s been quoted by their ECP. Save them time and trouble and explain the fine print. Let them know that those deals typically include only minor prescriptions and standard lenses. If a patient needs or wants anything beyond that, prices will climb. Outlets also use older technology for progressive designs and lens coatings to compensate for the lower prices, and dramatically mark up their product to create higher profit margins.

Belief #3: Internet eyeglass companies are convenient and affordable.

Reality: Patients are often surprised to find out that glasses and contacts are medical devices regulated by the FDA. Research shows a good chance that eyewear ordered online will contain an inaccurate prescription or fail to meet impact resistance standards (especially important in children’s eyewear). Emphasize the necessity of reading and understanding warranties and return policies. You might even give guidance on lens options and frame styles, or provide them with this AOA online buying guide. If they do buy online (and depending on your practice’s policy), invite the patient to bring in the glasses for prescription verification or fit adjustment.

Patients with low prescriptions, basic needs, and who are comfortable with “getting what they pay for” will probably be served just fine by a mass market retailer. For everyone else, your dispensary is the best place for patients to purchase eyewear. Don’t use scare tactics to turn them away from retail outlets, but do provide them with the information they need to make a choice they are comfortable with.

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