Sponsored by IOT


By Deborah Kotob, ABOM

It cannot be said often or loud enough; only in-person optical retail can provide a true custom fit, personalized free-form lenses and frame adjustment, none of which can be replicated online. No amount of virtual try-on or the variety of apps for PD measurements and fitting heights will replace the personal in-person experience or be more accurate than a face-to-face fit and measure with a skilled optician. And no lens design built to work with averages across the entire eyeglass-wearing population will ever provide the customized, personalized fit and optics that take full advantage of free-form personalized lens designs. For this reason, brick-and-mortar retailers can offer all consumer segments more than online optical, and they are well poised to create omnichannel customer experiences that culminate in personalized in-store experiences for the millennial Experience Shopper.

Two often intertwined paths to purchase exist in the digital age, online and in-person. You would expect a millennial’s path to purchase to be driven by online shopping—it seems logical; they have grown up in a digital age with the Internet integrated into virtually every aspect of their life: school, work, dining, entertainment, relationships (dating, friends, family), hobbies. They use cyberspace to communicate, research, review and explore. And yet research shows that these born-of-the-digital-age consumers are Experience Shoppers hungry for authentic firsthand experiences. According to The Vision Council Focused inSights, Online vs. In-Person Buyers 2022 report, “Among prescription eyeglasses/sunglasses purchasers, in-person buyers are more likely to purchase at independent optical shops, while online buyers purchase more often at corporate or chain stores,” and “Among prescription eyeglasses/sunglasses purchasers, in-person buyers tend to spend more out-of-pocket, on average, than those who purchase eyeglasses online.”

Millennials are the largest consumer segment, and when it comes to eyeglass/sunglass purchases, they appreciate the experience only brick-and-mortar offers. However, online experiences permeate their lives, and millennials often start their shopping experience online before making their purchases in person. Retailers can connect with their customers online first with virtual showrooms showcasing their frame selection and virtual try-on that lets the customer select their favorites for live try-on and fitting at their in-person visit. This gives the millennial digital native a convenient browsing experience before the physical shopping experience. Engaging customers through different channels is in keeping with the omnichannel customer experience (CX) long touted by consumer marketing experts. For those of you wondering what omnichannel marketing is, it is when you interact with your customers through various channels—at a brick-and-mortar store, over the Internet, via text or through social media. According to the 2022 Shopper Experience Index, 64 percent of shoppers say a hybrid method of shopping has been their primary way of shopping for the past six months, with 63 percent of consumers researching online before entering a store.

Millennials represent the largest segment of the population in the U.S. currently (born 1981 to 1996), according to Howe and Strauss in their book Generations. This important consumer group eclipsed the number of baby boomers in 2014 when the Census Bureau counted 83.1 million millennials versus 75.4 million baby boomers.

What does this mean for optical retail? It means a steady influx of emerging and new presbyopes, with millions of millennials reaching age 40 in 2022. Millennials want an up close and personal shopping experience. Online cannot provide personal touch and custom fit, but brick-and-mortar retailers can. Face-to-face, hands on, personal touch, active engagement and the interaction of live try-on with personal real-time feedback are all elements of the authentic shopping experience that appeals to millennials. Brick-and-mortar optical practices, especially independents who offer an authentic personal shopping experience, are well positioned to attract the millennial Experience Shopper. 

All stories in the IOT Free-Form Insights Series