The Warby Parker Effect

How optometrists can stand out in the rapidly growing marketplace of online eyewear

Online eyewear retailers such as Warby Parker and Zenni Optical have accumulated a large amount of consumer attention, as well as revenue over the past 10 years. The number of prescription glasses sold online has grown by almost 600 percent between 2007 and 2017, according to eyewear industry group The Vision Council.¹ The allure of online retailers is easy to understand; trendy styles, home try-on convenience, and low price points are attractive to consumers, especially for younger demographics. Warby Parker’s brick and mortar retail stores across the country further encroach on local optometrists’ potential patients.

The truth is, optometrists shouldn’t focus their efforts on competing against online eyewear retailers where price is concerned. A better approach is to compete against Warby Parker by playing to your strengths: unmatched quality and personalized customer service. 

Educate patients on the drawbacks of buying frames online

How many times have you run into this scenario at your optometry practice: a patient visits your practice with complaints of their eyeglasses being too narrow, too small, or giving them a headache. After a quick examination, it’s clear that they did not purchase the eyeglasses from your practice. While purchasing eyeglasses from an online retailer may seem like a great money-saving idea, it may end up costing your patients both time and money in the long run. 

In fact, a study conducted by the American Optometric Association found that nearly half (44.8 percent) of prescription glasses purchased online had incorrect prescriptions or safety issues. More alarming, the study found that 25 percent of children’s lenses failed critical impact testing.² Stress the importance of quality and accuracy where your patients’ glasses prescriptions are concerned after each eye exam. For example, pupillary distance (PD) should only be measured by a professional, let your patients know this!

Educational email campaigns are a great way to inform your patients about the drawbacks and limitations of purchasing from an online retailer rather than an optometrist.  A “Know before you buy” email can highlight that patients with complicated prescriptions or progressive lenses, which require a precise fitting, should only be purchased from a professional eye care provider. Online retailers often do not have the resources to provide precise measurements or fittings, due to their “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Provide a truly personalized patient experience

Online retailers offer the convenience of letting people try on as many frames as they like at home, but if a patient needs special lenses, or wants a sturdier frame than acetate, an online retailer does not offer the patient many choices. This is because many online retailers take an “average” for optical center and segments height measurements, based on the frame size. However, applying an average across the board can negatively impact the quality of vision. For many of your patients, an online retailer’s lack of options and room for error may be a deal breaker. 

Unlike a quick-service online retail store, an optometrist takes the time to explain the benefits of different lenses, taking into account the patient’s lifestyle and needs, to provide the patient with the best options. Optometrists take their time with patients by helping them try on different frames and providing informed recommendations based on the patient’s lifestyle.

An active social media presence can help optometrists showcase their personalized patient experience to potential patients online. If a patient comes to your practice for help with frames that they purchased online, you can turn the encounter into a teaching moment and share it with your social media followers. Social media outreach can also be useful for sharing your current patients’ positive experiences with your practice. Ask your patients to share their experience with your practice on social media and tag your practice in the post.

Develop a strategy on how to best communicate with your patients about eyewear options

The key to standing out from your online competition is to get to your patients before they make a decision to purchase online – to be proactive not reactive. It’s important to establish a patient strategy that will keep your patients’ business in your practice from the initial eye exam through the buying process. This puts you one step ahead. You already have an interested patient in your practice, you just need to close the sale. Here are a few tips:

  • Make it a rule to discuss eyewear with each one of your patients. Whether you’re discussing new prescription frames, multi-focals, contacts or sunglasses (be sure to stress the importance of UV protection), don’t let a single patient leave without mentioning eyewear. If a patient is considering purchasing frames online, share your concerns with online retailers.
  • Ensure that you have a warm and friendly team that understands your practice’s goals. Create an atmosphere that encourages patients to try on as many frames as they like, and make sure that your staff is knowledgeable and trained on your selling points.
  • Another proactive measure you can take is asking your patients for online reviews! Make it a point to ask every satisfied patient you see to leave a review of your optometry practice on popular sites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook. Be sure to follow up by sending out an automatic review request after their appointment by email or text message.

At the end of the day online retailers like Warby Parker and Zenni Optical have great business models and eye-catching marketing strategies that are tailored to evolving vision care trends. Recently, Amazon has stepped into the field as a strong competitor. For patients with simple, non-complicated prescriptions, online retailers may be a fine choice. However, as you know, patients have very unique needs that require the patient care, resources, and quality that only professional eye care practices can provide. Use these strengths to your advantage to gain a competitive edge of online eyewear retailers.


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