Fifteen years ago, when the Internet was in its infancy, a small number of independent eyecare professionals planted their flags in cyberspace. Believing in the business building potential of the fledgling medium, these pioneering practitioners saw it as an opportunity to communicate with their patients in what was then a new and novel way.

As was typical in the web 1.0 era, most of the web sites subsequently launched by independent ECPs were little more than electronic phone book ads, offering basic information about products, services, staff and hours of operation.

As I surf the web today, I notice many ECP web sites are still stuck in 1.0 mode. Few exploit the capabilities of web 2.0 technology to create an interactive, dynamic experience for patients.

I recently spoke with Howard Purcell, OD, Essilor of America’s head of customer relations, who is developing Essilor’s online strategy for independent ECPs. According to Purcell, online purchases of optical products will grow in the next year from about 3 to 6 percent. Commenting on the results of a recently released Essilor-Jobson study of optical’s online marketplace, Purcell says independent ECPs must seize the opportunity to expand their businesses through this new channel. He describes how a virtual dispensary can provide a new way to engage patients, and how it can complement a conventional, bricks and mortar eyecare practice., a company co-founded by an optometrist, has already proved that a significant number of consumers are purchasing eyewear online, including sophisticated products such as progressive lenses. The site boasts 30,000 new visitors daily.

It’s clear that independent ECPs need to compete more effectively in the online arena, whether they do it on their own or with a corporate partner such as Essilor. If you’re and independent ECP, it may be time to rethink your online business strategy.

—Andrew Karp