At what price service?

July 24, 2013

I belong to an online parenting discussion forum with women from around the country. I’ve been part of this group for more than 15 years. Our group has gained and lost members over the years, and we have moved from a public forum to a private one.

BaileyOur group is now very tightly knit. Due to my business travel, I’ve had the good fortune to meet many of these women in real life. Or “IRL” as we say in Internet parlance. Amazingly-or maybe not so amazingly, given what drew us together-our kids all get along, too. I consider this group of people as solid friends.

Just today, I addressed my online buddies yet again on the concept of online optical retailing. Now and again, an eye question crops up, and the subject line of the thread tends to be, “Hey Gretchyn, eye question!” (My invisible friends know I work in the eyecare field.) For the past week, a friend had been discussing her frustration with her poor vision, and her plan to see her local eyecare provider to see what could be done. Of course, I offered advice.

Then, today she posted a link to Warby Parker.

This friend is in her mid 40s, and she is a contact lens dropout due to poor comfort and vision. She spends a lot of time online (reading our message board, no doubt, as do the rest of us). She has computer glasses that work only when she sits at a certain angle, and that won’t work due to her freelance projects…and on it goes. She’s an engineer without being an engineer.

And she posted a link to Warby Parker.

Even if Warby Parker sold PALs (which it doesn’t, she pointed out, clearly disappointed) or if she required a single-vision Rx, I can’t see that transaction going well, can you?

Chief Optometric Editor Ernie Bowling recently wrote about a situation in which a patient returned with incorrect glasses purchased online and expected Dr. Bowling to fix the problem. I can picture my friend going through a similar scenario if her desire for an online spectacle purchase was realized.

In previous discussions with my invisible friends, I’ve talked about the benefits of seeing optometrists, how to address dry eye, suggestions for helping their kids wear contact lenses, and the occasional explanation for IOP, contact lens care solutions, and more. My advice was sought and gladly welcomed. But somehow, that hasn’t been the case when I’ve talked about online optical dispensing.

The reason? Cheap pricing was king! Someone got great frames and lenses that worked for $20! Why wouldn’t everyone do this? they wondered. After gentle probing, I heard about the problems with the order, and the pair of glasses that was sent back. But it was $20! My words about service, frame selection, proper lens measurement and fitting, consideration of the Rx, all fell on deaf ears.

I was surprised, and, frankly, a bit hurt, that my credibility apparently went out the window when dollars came into the picture. Don’t rinse GP lenses with tap water? Sure, I can do that, no problem. Talk to my husband about the importance of adhering to his glaucoma drops? I’ll absolutely do that. Stop for a minute to think about the elements of service I won’t receive if I buy glasses online? No, that doesn’t matter if I can get them cheap…Until it does matter.

Have you had such conversations with patients or friends? How are you addressing the concept of price vs. service? Let me know your strategies and tactics. I could use some good advice for my friends.ODT