The world of optical is a war for the spoils — consumers. On one side, those who succeed if the traditional model of optometry remains. On the other, the disrupters who succeed if the model changes.

After two decades of driving buyers to the Internet, eyewear e-commerce is a reality that has steadily gained market share over the last five years.

The traditionalists have responded as expected to defend their stake in the war; controlling PD measurements, instilling fear about buying eyewear online, creating doubt about product quality, and warning “buyer beware.”

The disrupters have taken a completely different approach. They’ve met the consumer where they are shopping. They have found a way to significantly cut costs to consumers by eliminating several steps and markups. They too, are defending their position and are gaining ground.

While the consumer? The consumer is the one really winning. They are more empowered than ever with abundant choices, regular advertising about low pricing, and incentives to buy inexpensive eyewear online. It’s mass commoditization of the industry.

So, where can the two sides meet? By choosing their battles. For example, opticians and doctors have very different views on the battle for the PD. Opticians see it as an affront to their profession that can lead to lasting negative feelings toward the practice. Doctors want to keep the patient happy and make sure they leave feeling they are welcome back no matter where they buy glasses.

Lose the battle, win the war.

Recognize that people are curious about buying glasses online — at least once. Society has trained them to go there, many since birth, so don’t punish them if they do. Will you lose some revenue from single vision patients? Yes. Will you more than make up for it when they need a progressive? Absolutely. Do you have the opportunity to educate them on your value if there are issues? Always.

Optometry is the only industry that has a medical and retail function under the same roof. In a typical practice, 60 percent of revenues are driven from retail. You are in retail.

Make your retail space warm, inviting and keep it fresh and up-to-date. Offer loyalty programs. Merchandise the store to make it an easy place to shop. And stop thinking you can only sell to consumers on their exam day! Insurance may only contribute every two years, but consumers are buying almost two times faster than we let them.

Finally, become less transactional and more relational. Consumers are not interested in paying big dollars for a transaction but they will pay for an experience. We have become very good at moving patients through the office in an efficient manner. But do we create an experience that is memorable? What will they share with their friends and family about your office and staff? Increases in no-shows, returns, refunds and lost sales can all be attributed to an experience that has little real or perceived value to the patient. Taking time to build a relationship with the patient will reduce these major indicators.

What does the new norm look like? Like accepting the current marketplace, developing a strategic plan to deal with it, and a focus on customer service.

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 edition of INVISION.

MICHAEL KARLSRUD is the founder of The Karlsrud Companies, a resource for sales, customer experience and leadership excellence. An international speaker/trainer, he also hosts The Vision Council’s On The Road Sales Coach. More information can be found at and

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