Online optical in its earliest incarnations was a commodity vehicle to get glasses at low prices. The typical eyewear website featured $19-$39 eyewear and not much more, hence it became anathema to our industry.

The online eyewear space is now occupied by 324 distinct businesses, and while the low price/commodity model is still in play, there are sites that offer better quality, some marketing sizzle and higher prices.
In 2015, online revenue was $400 million, just 3% of the industry total, representing about two million pair. This year, sales are expected to reach 6% of total industry revenue, doubling in share in just two years, and projected to continue on a growth curve of 17% per year. Needless to say, the numbers are getting big fast.

Of course, we all know the flaws in the online model-fit, adjustment and the virtual elimination of the “high touch” experience that most consumers associate with purchasing eyewear.

Warby Parker addressed the latter issue by sending online customers five frames to try on, enabling them to select the one(s) they liked and then return them all. Fit and adjustment was another story. This was a primary reason WP started opening physical stores. Today the online retailer has 23 locations with more to come, making 68% of its surveyed consumers much happier.

The immutable truth is that online eyewear and brick-and-mortar dispensing are both here to stay. The smartest among us know this and have begun to meld the two models together (witness LensCrafters).

No one is better positioned to take advantage of this model than the independent ECP, who already has an established customer base and knows how to stay in touch with it. As well, independents have current Rx and fitting information on loyal customers who return every two years.

Wouldn’t it make sense to extend the independent retail experience to cyberspace for those customers? Wouldn’t it make sense to alert them periodically to new eyewear options that they could avail themselves of online (in between 24-month visits), have the eyewear made for them and then send a message to pick it up?

It would seem like a logical strategy to 1) improve multiple sales and 2) retain customers who may at some juncture be tempted to try an alternative provider

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