COMPETE WITH OPTICAL E-TAILERS USING THESE STRATEGIES TO SELL ONLINE.
With the growth of online eyeglass sales, many eyecare professionals (ECPs) are researching how to make online frames available through their practice for their patients. Most ECPs are looking for a turnkey option (where a company will build the e-commerce website, manage it, provide the frames and lab work, and ship to patients using a private label format). If that’s cost-prohibitive, you can manage it yourself—or at least parts of it. Here are some options to get you started with online retailing.
Ocuco, Inc. has a very broad-based platform and omni-channel products that support many segments of the optical industry, including independent practices, optical retail chains and optical labs. The company’s e-commerce platform provides an impressive customized web design solution. The service offers a vast library of eyeglass frame images, a robust virtual mirror (via Fitting Box) and provides online marketing services after the website goes live. Ocuco has already built various forms of e-commerce websites for many large and small optical companies, including ECPs. While it’s important to note that Essilor’s My Online Optical has been available for the past several years, the service isnot currently actively signing up new websites. According to management, what’s been learned as a result of providing a turnkey solution will be used to redesign the platform.
The key to selling eyeglasses online successfully (using either a turnkey solution or a hybrid solution where the practice provides some of the services) depends on several key factors. It is important to recognize that even with a turnkey solution, the practice will need to spend time/effort managing the e-commerce program and should expect to spend more than $15,000 for a well-designed website. Web traffic and sales need to be monitored daily, the frame mix needs to be managed, and most importantly, the website must be marketed (through social media, pay-per-click advertising and/or SEO). The adage of “build it and they will come” does not always apply to e-commerce websites.
There are three key components to having a successful online optical website.
1. Website Design and Development The site needs to look modern, be easy to navigate, mobile friendly and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) enhanced. It also needs good support content pages (including an About Us page, Rx info, FAQs, and more) that someone has to create and customize for each practice.
2. Product Presentation.
Obviously, an online eyeglass site needs frames, lenses and potentially other products such as accessories. Decide up front what the value proposition will be (low-priced generic products vs. high-end designer products, for example) and select frames/lenses and pricing that reflects that image. The following also needs to be considered:
a. Eyeglass Frame Images: Where will the frame images come from? This is a critical point to success. Consumers want high-resolution images. They also want at least three image angles of the frames to look at (preferably a 360° view). In addition, images need to be consistent among all frames on the site (for example, have the same image angles, resolution, etc.)
b. Virtual Mirror: An important thing to consider when selecting a company to work with is that they offer a virtual mirror. Most online eyeglass sites offer one, but some of the most popular sites have decided not to. The key point is that if you do select an option that offers a virtual mirror, it must be easy to operate, fast and offer a good quality user experience. It is better to have no virtual mirror than a bad quality one.
c. Lab Work: Who will provide the lab work? If you plan to use an in-house lab, can they handle the anticipated increase in lab work and space needed for increased inventory? Can the lab scale up quickly if necessary? If using an outside lab, what do you know about its quality, speed and price? Also, is the lab willing to ship finished glasses with your practice label and insert material (for example, customized case/cleaning cloth, printed material, and other promotional items)?
3. Ongoing Marketing and Site/Operations Management
Just having a nice-looking website is only part of the formula to success in an eyeglass e-commerce business. Is the practice willing to market to the current database of patients? If so, this a great place to start with email blasts, letters and other marketing techniques to let current patients know about the new eyeglass site. Otherwise, it will be necessary to do online marketing to invite consumers to shop. This will require an ongoing investment in SEO, pay-per-click advertising and/or social media marketing. This is a critical point. A strategy, plan and budget for online marketing will need to be developed. This investment can be considerable and adds to the time to a return on investment.
Bob Main, ABOM, is a business development consultant who works primarily with the eyecare industry.