By Linda Conlin, ABOC/NCLEC

There’s an internet eyewear retailer whose advertising claims to dispel the “myths” of internet eyewear purchases. Here’s one. “Myth: Online glasses compromise on quality. While there are certain online retailers that sell less-than-quality products, there are plenty of low quality products at retailers that sell at brick and mortar locations. All you need to do is make sure you do your research.” Was that supposed to be reassuring?

Another note on the website was, “In our factories, we implement strict policies: No child laborers, ever; ample leisure time; paid overtime; always safe and healthy conditions.” It’s disconcerting that the company sees the need to advertise those policies. If I could forget that I’m an optician, I still don’t think the website would encourage me to buy my glasses online. I decided then, to look a little closer at the impact the internet has on traditional eyewear retailers.

If you haven’t seen The Vision Council Internet Influence Report November 2016, it’s worth a read. The Vision Council analyzed more than 7,000 responses to a questionnaire from U.S. adults who had purchased any type of eyewear during the previous six months. According to the report, most people who indicated using the internet “to some extent” while shopping for eyewear were gathering information to use to make a purchase at a brick and mortar location. They looked at prices, brands, and retail locations for their purchases. Perhaps most important is the reported increase in checking customer reviews of both internet and traditional eyewear retailers. After gathering the information they wanted, only 4% of recent eyeglass buyers completed the purchase online.

Why not buy online?
The top two reasons respondents gave for not completing their eyewear purchase online were the ability to try on the eyewear, and “the trusted relationship they have with their eye care professional or retailer.” It’s also noteworthy that few consumers who researched online eyewear reported having decided on the exact pair of glasses they wanted. This indicates the importance of being able to try on a variety of eyewear as well as the role of the professional in the selection process.

While contact lenses are purchased online more often (19% of recent contact lens purchasers) 78% of those who did not purchase contact lenses online also cited the trusted relationship with their eyecare professional and preference for in-person purchases as their reasons for avoiding online purchases.

The opportunity
We can use the information consumers gather online about our products and about us to our advantage. An informative, up to date website is a must. Check consumer reviews and respond to them. Even if no name is attached to a poor review, it’s very likely you know who it is. An offer to make things right shows your caring and professionalism. Be aware of your competitors’ products and pricing. You don’t have to match them, but you can be ready to explain why your practice is different. Put on your “warm and fuzzy.” People want the personal attention and care the internet just can’t offer. They want you!