In response to increasing pressure from “big box” retailers, independent practitioners need to change their behavior to survive and thrive, according to two ophthalmic industry experts speaking during a webinar yesterday. Essilor hosted the discussion, with a guest speaker from VSP Vision Care and a live question-and-answer session.
Essilor senior vice president of customer development, Howard Purcell, OD, FAAO, told participants that private optometry practices in Australia and the United Kingdom are being overshadowed by Spec Savers, and that U.S. optometrists must plan ahead to prevent a similar situation from occurring.
Spec Savers is an international company providing eye exams and low-cost glasses and contact lenses in 10 countries, including the U.K. and Australia. Purcell visited Spec Savers in the U.K. and said they provide professional eye exams using high-tech equipment. “Everyone gets retinal photography,” he said.
“The dichotomy in Spec Savers is that on the other side, it’s an inexpensive and low-end dispensing process,” Purcell continued. “With their size and buying power, they can keep the prices very low.
“It’s important to learn from this so we’re ready if it comes over here,” he told webinar participants.
Purcell said private practitioners need to innovate in the areas of communication, office design and products.
“Technology is driving consumer habits,” he said. “We need to embrace the fact that we have to look at a patient as a consumer, because we’re competing with large groups that understand that.”
“Fortunately, for us, the consumer still prefers the independent practitioner for examination services,” Dan Mannen, OD, FAAO, VSP Vision Care, said to webinar participants. “The unfortunate thing is more of those patients are will to consider shopping for materials in a retail establishment or online. We are facing pressures similar to other industries. How many industries have gone from brick and mortar stores to shopping online?”
Mannen listed areas that independent practitioners should be addressing to thrive in today’s changing environment: personalized dispensing, materials education, transparent pricing, online scheduling, online communication, and ease of purchase and pick-up.
“It’s about education,” Purcell added. “Most consumers would feel comfortable being educated online and then coming in to make a purchase and have the eye wear adjusted and to have questions answered. That’s a very secure feeling.”