Internet opticals are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Optician’s seemingly self-serving warnings of poor quality, improper fit, and less-than-optimal vision, appear to be falling on deaf ears. The bottom line is, for many people… well, "the bottom line," particularly in the midst of severe economic downturn. Combined with a rising chorus of consumer advocates, vision sites, and news organizations, extolling the outlandish savings found online, internet opticals seem poised to change the way people think about purchasing eyewear.
When viewed from a consumer perspective (without optician bias), it is hard to argue with eyewear that can be purchased at a small fraction of what it can be purchased for in a traditional dispensary. Even if the first pair doesn’t work out, a second or even third can be purchased for still less than a single traditionally purchased pair. While not for everyone (and maybe not even for your target customer), the savings does appeal to a wide audience.
I think the following quote from Ira of glassyeyes.com, advocate for consumer savings via internet opticals, sums up the attitude well:
I don't have a problem with paying for any of these services if I feel I need them -- and some truly do. I'm not, however, going to pay an extra $350 for what equates to a half-assed extended service plan. It doesn't take a "rocket surgeon" to pop a new screw in or replace a nose pad. Heck, even other adjustments aren't impossible (there are all sorts of videos online -- from opticians -- explaining how this can be done at home with no special tools).
Perception is reality.
As with any kind of change, you have three possible responses:
1. You can ignore the change and pretend it doesn’t exist.
2. You can complain about the change and call people stupid for participating in it.
3. You can embrace the change and look for opportunities.
Here is one opportunity I see:
Start by developing a pricing model for all your standard optical services. Do not be ridiculous or vindictive about it, but come up with fair pricing. Post and/or publish your prices and charge the internet or bargain retail shoppers accordingly. Perhaps even consider catering to this niche.
If the cost-conscious are not your niche, when your customers make a purchase, present them with a gold card entitling them to all the services on your list free of charge. Also, consider other, unique benefits customers might receive as a “gold card holder” just to make them feel special. Make your offering about the experience as much as the eyewear.
Then empower your employees to break the rules. Allow them offer free services and make people walking in off the street just needing an adjustment or nose pad feel special. Take a chance on generating word of mouth or capturing a life-long customer.
Be creative and care about your customers.
Folks that buy their eyewear online still may need your services, maybe not today, but someday. It probably doesn’t make much sense to go out of your way to be rude or alienate them. If you do: best-case scenario, you may have lost some business; worst-case scenario: you’ve generated negative word of mouth for both your business and opticians as a whole.