Virtual Try-ons Take Off

Even though I cover the lens and technology beat for 20/20, I am not what marketing people call an “early adaptar.” It took me years to get a CD player, though by the time I did, everyone had begun swapping digital music files.

It’s not that I’m a Luddite. I like progress as much as the next person does. But marketers have a way of making every new product or technology sound like it’s a step forward, when in fact only a few can truly live up to that claim. I suspect that many of you, like me, need to be thoroughly convinced of the value of a new technology before investing in it.

Yet all new technologies deserve a chance to prove themselves in the market. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of waiting for a particular product or process to evolve before its full potential can be realized.

That’s the case with virtual try-on systems. When these systems first appeared a few years ago, many dispensers did not fully grasp their value. Some simply assumed that virtual try-on technology was just an update of the older display systems that use a video camera and split-screen technique to show patients how they looked wearing various frames in the dispensary.

Though virtual try-on systems could do much more than that with their powerful digital imaging capabilities and extensive frame and lens data bases, they were slow to catch on. The first generation systems were relatively expensive and some vendors did not adequately support them with updated software. I recall visiting an upscale dispensary a couple of years ago and finding one of the new try-on systems unplugged and collecting dust. The vendor had not provided the necessary software upgrades, according to the dispenser.

Today it’s a different story. Increased competition has prompted vendors to improve their systems and service. Growing numbers of independent practitioners and chain retailers are installing try-on systems. Two major lens suppliers, Essilor and SOLA, have each begun promoting virtual try-on systems (see Lens Marketing, page 36).

Virtual try-on technology has cleared the initial commercial hurdles and is now becoming a force in the eyewear market. If you haven’t checked it out already, it’s time to take another look.

—Andrew Karp
Group Editor, Lenses and Technology