Ophthalmic Lenses

5 Ways to Compete with Low-Cost Retailers

By Diane Palombi, OD

Sept. 13, 2017

With so many options to buy eyewear inexpensively online, and from large corporate-owned chains, an independent is hard-pressed to compete on price. Competing based on value, rather than price, is a challenge, but one that you have an excellent chance of meeting. With the right messaging in your office, and in your marketing, you can show patients why the product, and experience, they purchase from you, is worth the added cost.

There is a saying that a consumer at best can expect two out of the following three services from a supplier: A quality product, speedy delivery or low price. It is not reasonable, or even possible, to expect all three. Some optical establishments have their reputations based on one of these three. Lenscrafters prides itself on speedy delivery with its glasses-in-about-an-hour service. America’s Best is known for delivering two pairs of glasses, plus the eye exam, for a low price.

Independent optometrists, if they have positioned themselves effectively, are perceived as providing quality service. But the leap from the patient understanding you offer quality service, and the patient believing that quality service is worth the added cost, can be daunting.

Here are five ways you can motivate patients to buy from you–because the value of what you provide is more than worth it.

Warby Parker is taking its expansion from online refraction and eyewear seller, and fledgling bricks-and-mortar retailer, to the next level: opening its own optical labs. Click HERE to read more.

Showcase Superior Products
One way optical retailers like Warby Parker keep costs down is by selling their own frames, which they manufacture cheaply, rather than the recognizable brands some patients still may have their heart set on. You can make the most of that by showcasing your brands. You can organize your optical by brand, playing up the luxury aspects of higher-end frames you sell.

For instance, you could show displays that pair a high-end brand with other accessories like purses or scarves, to emphasize the style opportunities you offer with your products. You want to show patients that getting the exact brand they have in mind is part of getting the exact total look they want.

A less-expensive competitor is not going to offer the patient a designer-name frame with a custom progressive lens. There are still patients who want that pair of glasses that lets them have exactly what they want, with no compromises on style, or quality of vision, required.

Explain How the Custom Service You Provide is Better
With corporate chains, and now Warby Parker, equipped with in-house optical labs, expecting patients to understand paying more for a quick turnaround on eyeglasses is unrealistic. But they may understand if the glasses you create for them are different from the glasses they would get in less time from a less expensive retailer.

Digitally-surfaced lenses, which offer patients customized prescriptions, give you a way to provide products that the patient isn’t going to get from an online retailer. The personalized lenses are created while taking into account the minutest individual tendencies, such as how a patient moves their heads, and the smallest aberrations in vision.

In contact lenses, too, patients with complex needs may have difficulty purchasing more speedily, and more cheaply, online, or from a corporate chain. Like the opportunity offered by personalized spectacle lens prescriptions, specialty contact lenses, such as torics and multifocals, give independents a way to emphasize the value proposition. Patients with specialized prescriptions require greater attention from the doctor, and can benefit from a doctor and staff that is easily reachable if the prescription needs tweaking. In other words, whether in spectacle glasses, or contact lenses, if you want a prescription customized to your individual needs, it’s still the independent OD who can best provide that to you.

Let Patients Know You Stand By Your Products
The warranty of glasses purchased from online, or corporate-owned, retailers, may not be as generous as what you offer. And if, by chance, they do offer an impressive warranty, taking advantage of it isn’t as easy, or fast, as stopping by your local eye doctor’s office to return the glasses, get temporary replacement glasses, or a needed adjustment to the frame.

If you don’t do so already, think about offering a six-month, or one-year, warranty, that gives patients greater security purchasing from you than they would get purchasing from a less expensive retailer. Then, promote that warranty policy with signage in your office, and information about it on your practice web site and social media. You also can include in that marketing a message that you offer ongoing customer service for products purchased in your optical, including taking care of needed eyewear adjustments.

Show You Know Your Patients Well & Care About Lifestyle Needs
Another thing the patient isn’t going to get online, and is unlikely to get from a high-volume chain, is an in-depth conversation with their doctor and optician on their lifestyle needs. In addition to offering more doctor-patient, and staff-patient, time, independently owned practices often form long-term relationships with patients in which they get to know the patient, and their family, over a lifetime, sometimes over multiple generations. That puts you in a superior position to provide both eyecare, and products, that suit the patient’s individual needs.

Position Yourself as Your Community’s OD
As an independent business based in one city, or geographic, area, you also know the specific needs of your community better than a corporate-owned retailer based outside the area. You can make the most of that by offering products tailored to your area’s climate, and the activities that your patients do most frequently. For example, if you’re a practice in Colorado, you may be able to offer a greater, or more advanced, selection of sports eyewear tailored for winter sports like skiing and snowmobiling than an online, or corporate-owned business, can offer. A corporate-owned optical in a region rich with winter sports opportunities will likely have items like ski goggles, and other sunwear attuned to skiing, but the selection may not be as in-depth as what you could offer, or as personalized, specifically, to what you, as the local OD, have noticed your community needs. You may know more about the buying quirks of your patients, such as certain brands they favor, or certain styles, or sunwear tints, that work best for them.

Remember: You are well-positioned to provide the kind of customized visual solutions, brand-name styles, and in-depth one-on-one time, that isn’t easy for patients to find from low-cost competitors.

What are you doing in your own practice to differentiate yourself from less expensive competitors? How do you emphasize the quality of your products and services?



Diane Palombi, OD, retired now, is the former owner of Palombi Vision Center in Wentzville, Mo. To contact her: dlpod1@hotmail.com


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