A person coming into your practice asking for a glasses adjustment is a daily occurrence in many of our offices. In years past, it was commonplace to have the optician take care of the patient “on the house” as a gesture of goodwill. If he was a current patient—great; if he wasn’t—well, maybe your kind gesture just made such a positive impression on him that he might schedule his next exam with you.
While this system has seemingly worked well in the past, the landscape has changed—and is continuing to change. Gone are those simple days when nearly all patients purchased glasses from their eye doctors’ offices. Online eyewear vendors have exploded onto the scene, and the fallout includes the doctor/patient relationship.
The value of optical services
After years of devaluing the crucial and vital services of eyewear selection, verification, and adjustments, it’s no wonder that we are often faced with scenarios in which our patients feel very comfortable coming in with Internet-purchased eyewear and expecting our opticians’ services for free. When we initially encountered this scenario, the legacy policies of goodwill were applied. However, over time, many offices, including my own felt the need to develop policies that were fair to us as well as the patient.
It is time to bring the perceived value of our opticians to the forefront and highlight the benefits of buying from our offices instead of online. Our practices simply cannot be successful if services are being given away. We all know that often when something is given away, it is not valued the same as if it were purchased.
Online purchasers need our help
If you haven’t had a patient ask you to adjust frames bought online, request his PD in order to buy on the Internet, or complain that glasses from your Rx purchased online don’t work, you will soon.
The 2015 Vision Council Internet Influence Report found that 30.7 percent of recent eyewear buyers with easy access to the Internet indicated that they may possibly or probably will use the Internet to directly purchase eyewear in the future.1 With more people buying online, we will see more of them in our offices needing assistance. Internet-purchased eyewear unfortunately seems to be plagued with errors, and our patients will need us.
In fact, the American Optometric Association (AOA) bought 200 pairs of glasses from the 10 most popular online eyewear vendors and tested them. The results are shocking. They found nearly half of the eyeglasses (44.8 percent) had incorrect prescriptions or safety concerns.1
Bewildering to me is the fact that patients will proudly present their online glasses to me and often with a statement such as, “Can you adjust them for me, please?” or “Something seems off; would you check them for me, please.” In our office, we do often note the politeness of the request, but we also note their sense of entitlement because patients never seem to inquire about the charge for such a service.
Like several other current concerns in optometry related to the Internet (online exams, anyone?), we are partially at fault. If we fail to adapt and change, these situations will only get worse.
So, what solutions have been found?
Create eyewear service plans
As optical industry experts, we know that there is often a huge difference in both the service and products between brick-and-mortar and online vendors. Unfortunately, our patients do not. We are often provided with multiple opportunities to educate them.
We need to find out if our patients plan on purchasing eyewear. If so, we need to find out where. If it is online, we need to thoroughly educate them on the benefits of purchasing from their eyecare practitioner vs. online. Some patients don’t want to hear it, and while that is frustrating, we can’t give up. Let them know that you want them to bring in their online eyewear so you can ensure they received glasses that were made correctly, along with whatever additional benefits such as adjustments and maintenance you want to provide in your “online glasses care package.”
Developing such an eyewear service plan (ESP) has tremendous short-term and long-term value to your practice and your patient—and some would also argue to our profession. Most important, these plans help patients see the value and worth in your optician. Patients realize there are just some things that can’t be done online, such as glasses adjustments, and they need the services of an expert.
For example, Warby Parker knows this, which is why it will reimburse its customers up to $50 for a pupillary distance measurement (PD). If after asking, you find out your patient is dead set on spectacles from Warby Parker, then this is the perfect opportunity to inform your patient about your ESP. While the circumstances not ideal, it is an easy discussion to have that helps to solidify your value to your patient.
If the request for a prescription comes in, you also have an opportunity. In our practice, emailing the patient our ESP in this situation works well. We are often thanked and see the patient come in with their new glasses. Ideally, because we include information about our “$99 special” and benefits of working with us, we do find that some patients will decide to come in and forget about ordering online. The point is that we have to be proactive.
The mindset of many consumers today is that they can get practically anything online. That may be true, but we need to educate our patients about certain truths. Internet-purchased eyewear is here to stay, so it’s important to develop strategies about how best to address the challenges that surround them. Ensure that your patients have all of the facts about purchasing eyewear online and know the value that you can provide. If they do, you can expect your relationship with them to strengthen instead of dissipate.
1. The Vision Council. VisionWatch Internet Influence Report. 2015 Nov;7. Available at: https://www.thevisioncouncil.org/sites/default/files/research/2015-Internet-Influence-Report-FINAL.PDF. Accessed 9/6/16.
2. American Optometric Association. A Closer Look at Ordering Eyeglasses Online. Available at: https://www.aoa.org/documents/public/A_Closer_Look_at_Ordering_Eyeglasses_Online.pdf. Accessed 9/6/16.