By Jonathan Cargo, OD
July 26, 2023
Online retailers are targeting sales from our patients, and often provide a more convenient way to purchase eyewear than independent optometry offices do. We have found a few key ways to compete that have helped equalize the sales opportunity between them and us.
Our practice generates more than $2 million dollars annually in revenues, and since implementing the following strategies, we’ve seen our revenue increase by more than 14 percent, or more than $25,000 per month.
Our Own Interactive Online Optical Showroom
We want to start the retail experience before the patient comes to our office. Since April 2022, we have used a web-based software, Optify, that, in exchange for an monthly subscription fee, allows us to host in real time our entire inventory online, so patients can pre-select their frames before their examination. This showroom platform syncs with our inventory management software several times a day, so it automatically updates as we receive new products into our inventory.
A couple days before a patient’s exam, we send them a link from Optify and have them select 3-4 frames which they would like us to set aside for their visit. The platform allows them to virtually try on most of the frames, so they can see how they look, and share that look with friends and family.
Often, our patients want to get feedback from their loved ones on their new look, and by enabling them to share their selections we have changed this sales challenge into a benefit. Now instead of delaying their purchase, they’re sharing their shopping experience with others, which drives referrals.
A key challenge for our office is that patients know they can come to us for outstanding clinical care, but sometimes don’t think of us first for their eyewear. Starting the retail buying experience early gets them committed to the idea of purchasing products through our office.
In addition, allowing patients to browse our inventory prior to their visit helps speed up the process while in the office and makes them feel like we’ve provided a higher level of service by having the frames set aside for them to view.
The technology also allows us to attract new patients by giving us a way to show anyone who visits our site exactly which products they will find in our office.
Addressing Misconception that We’re Always More Expensive
We proactively address the misconception that we’re more expensive than online retailers and other larger sellers. We offer a wide variety of frame and lens options to meet most of our patients’ budgets. We remind our patients that their vision plan often sets their co-payments, and since we’re a fully participating provider, their costs are the same with us as they would be at another office or retailer where they would also use their vision plan.
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We’re a member of Vision Source, and one of its exclusive benefits is having access to the alliance’s Max software. This lets us easily calculate a patient’s co-payments using some of the most frequently encountered vision plans. We know that it’s critical that we accurately collect the proper co-payments since most plans charge our office charge-backs against higher co-payments for premium products. It’s in the co-payments where our profit resides, not from the reimbursement from the vision plans.
When we verify a patient’s health insurance and vision plan prior to their visit, we also use Max to calculate their co-payments for our recommended product portfolio for them and print it out. This is easily done if they are an existing patient because we can look at their previous spectacle history. For a new patient, we use a portfolio based on their age group. For example, we’d calculate the co-payments for a progressive design for our patients aged 45 and older.
By using Max, we are more accurate on our collections and our opticians can spend time educating patients on the benefits and features of their frame and lens selections rather than calculating their co-payments. This has increased the efficiency of the transaction within the optical, and the patient knows that we have prepared for the encounter ahead of time. Both lead to a better customer experience.
Finally, if a patient chose not to purchase from our optical, we provide them with the Max quote so that if they shop another optical they have our costs to compare similar products. We’re confident that for the same products we will meet or beat any other retailer.
Patient Financing to Ease Purchasing
We use patient financing via CareCredit to help make our patients’ optical purchase more affordable. For some of our patients, making a big purchase from our optical can be challenging, but by spreading out their payments using our financing option they are able to get the product they need today and pay for it over time. We offer no interest for an entire year for a $500 or above transaction.
Our team doesn’t make a big sales push for patient financing, but simply asks patients if they would like to learn about our interest-free financing for one year. Some may not interested, but by asking everyone, we have greater acceptance and we’re not offending anyone choosing or not choosing to offer the service to them.
Offering a financing option allows patients to get the products we recommend today without having to delay care. It also opens opportunities for them to get multiple pairs of glasses, including sunglasses. Many patients have never had prescription sunglasses, and it can be a life-changing moment. Spreading out the payments allows many of our patients to experience new products that better serve their needs.
Don’t be afraid of offering a financing option to your patients. You’ll be surprised at how many want and need this service. It also has been very helpful for annual supply contact-lens sales, myopia management and dry-eye therapies.