Glasses and contact lenses: Have they become a commodity?


Sell the best thing you have going for you-you.


The views expressed here belong to the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Optometry Times or UBM Medica.

Fifty years ago, my grandfather was a practicing OD. He would get a call at his lake cabin, rush into town, and spend 10 minutes working to solder the parts of a patient’s glasses so he could give the patient another year with his glasses.

At the end of his career, my grandfather had the entire town as his patient base with extreme loyalty from all for his efforts.

Today, things look a little different. The quality of frames does not seem to be the same. Gone are the days of personalization with frame engraving or investment in frame repair service.

Previously from Dr. Brujic and Dr. Kading: Why aren’t ODs referring to each other?

Our opticals have become commoditized.

In the same way, we used to have vials and vials of contact lenses sitting around in our opticals. We personalized every lens order for the patient. Today, we are fighting to keep contact lens prescriptions from going generic.

Patients can buy the same product from you that they can buy from another retailer. The frames you put on your shelf many times mirror the quality of some online or big-box stores.

Your differentiation comes in your provided service.

Quality service leads to happy patients

People did not buy glasses from my grandfather because the frames and lenses appeared to be better quality than somewhere else. People purchased glasses from him because Dr. R.E. Kading’s brand stood apart.

He was the product, not the merchandise he sold. In his day, people didn’t shop around to find the product that they wanted; they went to his shop to buy the product and receive his service. The pendulum with products has shifted, but the service standard has remained the same.


The changing times has required our financial models to shift. My grandfather never charged for contact lenses services-instead, he made his money off the sale of the products purchased.

In a world where patients have the choice (the Internet and big-box stores didn’t exist 50 years ago) to purchase elsewhere, our method of value has shifted from a product revenue/service-for-free model to a service and product revenue model.

Many ODs place their intent on creating the revenue from a mix. However, the costs of our products (that are the same products at big-box and online retailers) is usually higher than the patient can get elsewhere. I have spoken to many ODs who grow frustrated when their patients leave and buy contact lenses elsewhere.

Related: How patient care resembles parenting

Adjust your approach

Our practices have shifted, and many of us have become deranged into thinking that we are unique and sell products that are overtly different than our competitors.

Let me fill you in on a little secret.

Your patients do not search you out for having different products. They are seeing you because they have always seen you, or they are seeing you because you stand apart.

Patients will continue to see you as different if you share the benefits of one commodity over another. They will buy commoditized products from you if you provide them value in other areas so they see no point in looking elsewhere.

My suggestions are to consider increasing your service cost/value and set your products at a price that makes it nearly impossible for your patients to leave.

Such a move brings about several advantages, such as:

• Helps you know that your patients are getting the products they deserve

• Reduces the number of call backs for prescriptions or complaints for non-prescribed products

•  Brings in additional revenue

Sell the best thing you have going for you-you. 

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