A Different Take on Retailing
Nothing has caused more of an uproar in our industry than the battle over the prescription card. You know, that little 3 X 2 white card with your office name on it and a space to write down the- all- so- valuable digits that is ruining our industry.
I chose those words carefully because I hear it so often that on-line retailing is ruining optical. How dare companies come up with a distribution plan for glasses and contacts that takes out the middleman? Truth is, this has happened before in Optical and frankly in almost every other industry that works directly with the consumer. Thanks in part to the Internet, not only does information flow freely so does the ability to compete without borders.
The challenge to our optical shops is actually a great opportunity to reinvent ourselves and how we engage with our patients. Let’s start with a new school of thought; you have a patient from the front desk through the time the exam is completed. Once the optician is called in for the hand off from the doctor through checkout, you now have a consumer. Yes, a consumer.
Patients come in because they have an issue, condition or just a general wellness check. Either way, their attitude is one of “Dr., I need you.” This is the only time an OD has the emotional edge over the patient; they need you to prevent, diagnose or treat their eye condition. However, once the exam is over and they are returned to the optical the patient- now consumer- feels empowered to make choices. Why? Because they are armed with information. They know there are many more choices for eyewear than what is available on your frame board. They assume prices are lower everywhere else than at a doctors office. When this emotional switch happens, now you are the one that needs them. We have just gone from “powerful” to “powerless.” So what can we do?
The little white card. If the patient asks for it, give it them and at the same time have an open, honest conversation about next steps. Let them know that seldom if ever, do glasses fit without an adjustment. Also, talk to them about warranty and after purchase care. This is not the time to gouge people, make them feel bad or turn your back on them because they are an empowered consumer. They are still your patients. There is a difference. The last thing you want to do is put up a fight or an attitude over the little white card with numbers on it. You want the patient for life and if the last thing they remember from you is how you made them feel because they wanted to be empowered, they will find another doctor.
The patient will need to come back, make sure you make them feel comfortable in doing so.
Think like a retailer. The next time you go shopping at an upscale store, stop and take notes. Notice how a store is merchandised, lighted, colors, layout, sights and sounds. This is a model for you to see, experience and bring into your own space. Ironically, because we view our patients as a “patient” through out the entire experience we assume they want to shop like a patient. They don’t. They want to shop like a consumer. Provide them a consumer experience, not a medical one. This means hanging up your scrubs, white coats and all things we have deemed “medical professional.” That’s good in the back office, not in the retail space. Finally, take some risks and have fun! What’s the worse that can happen? You sell more glasses?
Accept, Adapt and Move Forward. The Internet and its influence is here to stay. It will forever be part of the fabric of the optical marketplace. You can fight the losing battle or accept it, adapt to it and move forward. The future of your office will depend on the latter. On-line retailing can easily become part of your product offering instead of your competitor. WHAT IF you partnered with an on-line retailer and you promoted it to your patients and you got a cut of the sale? WHAT IF your office became the official place for an on-line retailer to fit glasses for patients that bought on-line in your area? WHAT IF you did the on-line shopping with your patient while in the office and you had them delivered there, fit them and helped your patient with her new eyewear? WHAT IF you looked at the whole world of on-line as an extension of your own frame boards with an unlimited reach of frame selection?
Retailing is a very competitive place for every industry and every market. It is now hitting optical and frankly, we are very ill prepared. Now is the time to let our defenses down and think creatively how we can embrace the new world so that everyone wins. It’s not the patients’ fault they are empowered. It’s the consumer.