AS THE topics and activities of International Vision Expo East slowly drift further from our minds, one topic that stubbornly persists is Internet eyewear retailing. In fact, it’s going to loom larger in the next few years as independent opticians, optometrists, dispensing ophthalmologists, and retail chains decide the position they will take with it.
Make no mistake, Internet eyewear retailing is here—big time. A presenter in a recent Expo course on this subject revealed there are over 200 viable Web sites selling eyewear; not just plano sunwear or over-the-counter readers, but prescription eyewear. Another presenter stated his site gets over 30,000 unique hits—every day.
Is Internet eyewear re-tailing a friend or foe for the optical community? It’s too early to tell and the answer may largely depend on your perspective on the issue. But here are some points to consider: According to data from FramesDirect.com, 69% of the U.S. population uses the Internet, making up about 233,000,000 users or 19.8% of Internet users in the world. There are 922,096 searches for “eyeglasses,” 656,481 for “contact lenses,” and 468,339 for “sunglasses” every month on Google.
What are consumers searching for? Information—mostly about products and services. They’re also looking for the convenience of buying online. Remember, these people were not solicited, advertised to, or marketed to; they had a need and went to the Web to get it filled.
Here’s a question Dr. Dhavid Cooper, CEO of FramesDirect.com, raised in an Expo course: Who is really in control when it comes to Internet eyewear sales? His answer: the consumer. In your office, you wield a great deal of authority when you recommend products and services but on the Internet, you’re not able to do that. Instead, consumers surf from site to site gathering information and making decisions based on the content.
While the technology of selling eyewear over the Internet and how Internet sales may indelibly affect each of the professions and commercial interests, the lasting effect of this new way to provide eyewear and eyecare to the public may be the shift of control from ECPs to the patients themselves. This issue is something we all need to be concerned about because it may change our professions and the industry in ways none of us imagined.
As we move ahead with Internet eyewear retailing, we should search for ways to maintain the professional control of the patient that has been a hallmark of our profession. Unless we do, we may find ourselves in a new paradigm that is not as appealing as we may have envisioned…and irreversible.