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Physical Stores Can Thrive As Online Retail Grows … Here’s How

Online eyewear sales will only ever get so much of our business.

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ON ITS SURFACE, the rise of the online eyewear industry is directly connected to the decline of brick-and-mortar. While the vast majority of eyeglasses are still sold the “old-fashioned” way, with patients receiving an eye exam in an office and selecting frames in the dispensary, online sales have steadily increased year over year. In 2017, 8 million pairs of prescription eyeglasses were sold online, totaling about 4.2 percent of the market. That growth is likely to explode once consumers are able to access online eye exams. How can physical stores compete?

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Retail Trends are Cyclical

I took my daughter shopping recently, only to gasp at a row of acid-washed jeans like the ones I owned in 1985. Eventually, it all comes back. The same is true of retail sales environments. We’re now seeing the rise of highly differentiated local retail settings where once developers cynically shut-down vibrant, community-based shopping centers in favor of cookie-cutter, big-box retail fronts.

Really, it’s all about local relevance. Shopping experiences are as much about necessity as they are about community. We live in a café society, where people seek the casual ebb and flow of walking down the sidewalk, stopping for food and drinking, gazing through the windows of unique storefronts and enjoying colorful streetscapes and open-air spaces. In the suburbs, especially, retail success demands attention to the location, how the business is differentiated, what community needs it satisfies and how successfully the concept is executed.

An Optical for the Community

When Dr. Joe Borden and I sat down to redesign our optical we not only wanted to transform the space visually, but to create a sense of community through design. All too often, patients sit in a lobby with their head buried in a smart phone, waiting to be called back for their eye exam. Instead, we wanted the space to be shoppable, inviting and inherently social.

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We converted the receptionist’s desk into a coffee bar. Patients could come in, whip up a cappuccino and pull up a chair to chat, or browse our frame collection with a mug in hand. We eschewed a “waiting room” lined with chairs. Who likes to sit and wait? Instead, we offered window seating so patients could gaze at the storefronts and passersby on Washington Ave. We hung paintings by local artists, and opened up the floor plan.

In an age of technological enablement, we brought the buying experience back to the values of the community by mixing the social and the sustainable with customer service and a vibrant, unique retail design. Our business became intimate, locally optimized and differentiated. It worked. We are busier now than ever before, attracting new patients and keeping long-time customers engaged.

No matter how hard vested interests try to force us away from economic gravity, eventually the immutable desires of people in local markets bring the pendulum back to sustainability. In some ways, online retailing may bring us back to a more interesting and relevant blend of retail alternatives.

Rebecca Furuta holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health Policy from the University of Colorado Boulder, and works as a sports vision specialist and ABOC/NCLE optician at Avenue Vision in Golden with Dr. Joe Borden, with whom she co-founded the eco eyewear lifestyle brand, Yeux & Eye (yeuxandeye.com). Email her at admin@avenuevision.com.

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Columns

Six Ways to Make Your Patient Experience Memorable

It’s all about hitting them in the feels.

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WHEN YOU THINK OF memorable experiences you tend to remember the times that you felt something. Creating a memorable patient experience is no different! Here are some ways to be memorable:

Active Listening

Pay attention to the patient from the moment they call for an appointment. Train your staff to take notes during this initial touch point and ask questions to understand what type of experience they are seeking. Once the patient is in your exam chair, you’ll have a “blueprint” of their expectations and can address the pain points that brought them in. Face them when they are talking and maintain eye contact.

Doctor Driven Dispensing

Whether you’re an owner or employee, doctor driven dispensing creates a memorable experience and drives loyalty through patient education of products. The clinical findings from the examination should be aligned with all the products you recommend and prescribe. You are the authoritative voice and experienced professional of the office; educate patients on why you are recommending a product and how it’s different from online retailers.

Storytelling

Storytelling can be an influential connector to your patients because it’s an emotional driver and memorable moments are created by emotions. It makes the patient experience a human experience. Be authentic.
Letting them know that your family member has the same issues with progressive lenses and what specific product you prescribed to solve it creates more value for your office than competing on price.

Market Memories

Online retailers like Warby Parker will donate a pair of glasses. It creates a memorable experience for the patient because they know that their purchase will help others. Whether it’s a local charity event or mission trip, your office can do the same. Use your email database and social media platforms to educate your patients about your involvement in the community.

Follow Up

The patient experience does not end with the exam. Making a follow up call to a patient can make a lasting impression and has more impact than you think in developing the critical doctor/patient relationship. Set reminders in your EMR system to have your staff follow up one week, one month or six months on progressive adaptation or overall satisfaction with service or products. Document personal information — job information, children’s names, etc. — in their chart and mention it in your next exam.

Be Unique

Your unique style makes you memorable. Humor is a memorable factor. Don’t be afraid to have a different approach to patient care; humor will make you likeable and approachable to new patients. You want patients to feel comfortable; being funny is one way to do it. Your personality, humor, empathy, and attention to detail are your signature to the world.
It speaks volumes; use it to create a memorable experience that no one can mimic because your “you” is unique.

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John Marvin

Introducing Amazon Eyecare and Eyewear

Relax, it’s not happening… yet. But there is a lot we could learn from their use of behavioral data.

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IN MY EXPERIENCE, the most frequent Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that eye doctors use are: 1) How much is today’s deposit? And 2) How many appointments are on the books for tomorrow?

It may seem simplistic, but many people reading this article will agree, it’s a ritual many eye doctors go through at the end of every work day. It’s a good start, but far from enough to perform with a competitive edge.

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We live in a marketplace driven by data. In our industry, there are courses at major conferences to teach ECPs the KPIs they should measure and manage and how often. Our practice management software can produce countless reports. It can be overwhelming, not to mention time consuming, to keep up with all of the information being produced.

But in eyecare and eyewear’s ever-changing environment, the effective use of data will be the difference between success and irrelevance. We must move from transactional data to behavioral data.

For decades, we’ve used transactional data —measuring what happened in the past — instead of using that data to tell us what we need to do to increase sales and service delivery tomorrow. But with a profession populated in large measure with small independent business people, it is difficult to build, much less afford the type of data systems needed to compete in today’s marketplace.

At a conference I recently attended, the question was posed, “What if you woke this morning to read that Amazon had announced they are going to invest big in the delivery of eyecare services and eyewear before the end of 2019, what would you do?” It is a very good, and not wholly unreasonable, question.

I think the reason people fear Amazon’s entry into our profession is that we know how good they are at competing. We know how much we like using them and how intimidating they are to anyone who has to compete with them … just ask Walmart.

Amazon’s real power is their use of both transactional and behavioral data. Have you ever purchased something from Amazon and for the next two weeks, everywhere you go on the web there are ads associated with what you just purchased? They studied purchasing behaviors and know that a majority of people who buy X will also buy Y if given the opportunity. They are using historical data to predict future purchasing.

With an online analytic program for the independent ECP, we could begin to understand what happened in the past and think about how to use that to impact the future. For example, if you knew a significant percentage of patients who purchased two or four boxes of contact lenses at exam purchased additional boxes within six months, then you could communicate with those patients right when they are most likely to repurchase.

However, this requires new capabilities in data collection, new tools and software for analyzing this information, and most importantly, a new way of thinking about the information being created in our businesses.

The future is not coming, it is here and those who are willing to think differently today will be the ones who will be relevant tomorrow.

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Robert Bell

Don’t Just Ask Questions, Actually Listen to the Answers

Sounds simple, but many don’t do it when trying to sell eyewear.

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A LONG TIME AGO, I overheard a conversation between two people:

Person 1: “Ugh, I just wish there was a magic potion you could drink to lose weight!”

Person 2: “There is. It’s called water.”

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Video Shows Just How Fabulous Eyeglasses Were in the ’50s — Take a Look
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Makes me laugh, every time, because of its sheer simplicity. Anytime I put myself on a weight loss plan, drinking lots of water a day is on the regimen. Simple, right? Well, yes and no. The not so simple part is actually doing it. To drink all that water per day (… hold on, I gotta go refill my water bottle…) isn’t easy. It is, however, very doable.

Well, it’s the same thing with selling.

There isn’t a magic potion for selling (trust me, I’ve drunk a lot of red wine just to be sure) but there is a magic wand. Know what it is? Listening. I mean really listening! The best salespeople I ever meet, in any industry, are always, hands-down, the best listeners. Simple, right? Well, yes and no. The hard part is doing it. I’ll share with you how to make that easier.

One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received was from one of my first clients, Dr. Robert Ratzlaff of RealEyes in Taos, NM. About a month after his EyeCoach training, he told me I had made him a better doctor. Hmm, strange I thought. I’m not a doctor nor did I attend optometry school.

“Doctor, how the hell did I do that?”

“By making me a better listener.”

“Ah, and how did I make you a better listener?”

“By teaching me to ask better questions. It forces me to listen to the answers.”

It forces me to listen to the answers.

If you’ve read my sales columns before, you know I’m all about the questions. The more questions, the better. The questions I ask have a “share with me” or a “tell me” element to them. Meaning, with each question I ask, I could have “Tell me” or “Share with me” as a preface. It implies we’re on the same team. It says, “Look, I’m not trying to persuade you, I’m trying to find out exactly how I can help you.”

“Tell me… when you’re reviewing your children’s homework, do you notice you’re moving the paper further away to read it?”

“Share with me… what’s happening with your eyes and vision when you’re at your daughter’s soccer games in the late afternoon? Just how harsh is that sun?”

“Tell me… how often is the baby grabbing the glasses off your face?”

“Share with me… how often are you rubbing your eyes and exactly what part of the day do you start to feel most fatigued?”

Wait for the answers. Don’t interrupt them, ever! When they’re done responding, ask another question until you have all the information you require to help them purchase all the eyewear they need.

I tend to nod my head up and down while they’re responding. Why? For me, it actually feels good and reminds me that I’m an active participant in this conversation. For them, it shows them I’m being an active listener and I care about what they’re talking about.

Listening. What a concept!

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