CONTROLLING THE CONVERSATION

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A recent issue of Consumer Reports featured an “8 Great Ways to Save on the Cost of Eyeglasses.”

Most of the “8 Great Ways” are commonplace (and positive), such as research your choices before shopping, consult your eye doctor on frames and lenses and consider buying a second pair.

But the overall tone is largely negative: 1) eyeglasses are over priced; 2) add-ons like UV coatings and blue light protection inflate the cost; 3) if your doctor won’t provide or charges for your PD, go elsewhere; 4) you can save by getting your exam at an independent, buying a frame online and bringing that frame to Costco or Walmart to be completed.

The implication is clear: optical people are out to cheat you so you’d better be on guard and astute.

Eyecare and eyewear have come under exceptional scrutiny from the consumer media. Remember the Leslie Stahl piece on 60 Minutes a few years back? Apart from potshots at Luxottica, Stahl and her producers were determined to show that eyeglasses are a rip-off with prices bloated by designer labels.

Of course, $19 online glasses and buy-one-get-one among retail chains don’t help, making consumers even more suspicious. After all, if they’re willing to give a pair of glasses, how much could they really cost?

It would be easy to say that this dilemma is the result of over-zealous consumer media and aggressive discounting, but in fact it has existed for some time and the industry has allowed it to grow.

Our industry once promulgated a “medical paternalism” philosophy—whatever the ECP said, whether OD or optician, was not to be disputed. The patient was the child, and the ECP was the all-knowing parent.

Now, with so much available information, consumers have become sufficiently emboldened to stand up to that Mom or Dad in the white lab coat and disagree. Or, worse, ask questions they would not have asked 30 years ago, like “Why is this so expensive?” and “Do I really need that?”

Our industry never had to defend itself to the patient, so it never learned how, meaning that most ECPs are hard-pressed to respond knowingly about price/value or the value of an add-on, only making the already skeptical patient even more so.

Until optical people can fully articulate the value proposition inherent within the products and services they offer, they’ll always be at a disadvantage. And that conversation will be controlled by others.

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