By Barry Santini

This is part two of “Making Glasses for the Invisible Man,” the first part of which ran in the September issue of 20/20.

Let’s combine what we’ve learned about making great quality eyewear together with how much gray actually permeates the same and use this new knowledge to construct a rational business plan optimized for selling Rx eyewear to an Invisible Man, aka a person an ECP might never see in person. Remember, we’ve already accepted the fact that a goal of 100 percent satisfaction is not possible, and Main Street opticals already know this from everyday experience. Rather, let’s accept the gray inherent in all eyewear remakes and returns, and retarget our new satisfaction level to lie between 80 and 85 percent. By doing this, we’ll see how our perspective changes about what’s “good enough”:

A. Pupillary Distance—Every ECP sees monocular PDs as essential in making quality eyewear. But a case has been made above that for Rxs in the 85th percentile— -3.00D to +3.00D—targeting the binocular PD makes the most sense. If we are not fortunate enough to have an Rx with a supplied PD, we’d have to settle on using a default binocular PD. The question now becomes which one? Fortunately, studies exist that have examined and compiled this information, such as the U.S. Army Anthropometric Survey, which is also known as ANSUR. It was determined from surveying over 3,700 personnel that the mean binocular PD for men was 64.5 mm, with the 85th percentile approximately encompassing PDs ranging from 60 mm to 69 mm. Now if we were to apply ANSI tolerance to glasses spec’d to a 64.5 mm PD, the range of acceptable finished PDs would run from 62 mm to 67 mm (plus or minus 2.5 mm). Note that this 2 mm is too short at either end to cover the range for all men in the 85th percentile goal. But we could get closer to the target range by factoring in the differences between the two common PD measuring modalities. For example, measuring the difference between pupil centers will result in binocular values typically 1 mm to 2 mm larger than a measurement obtained across the more nasally-displaced corneal reflexes. Now for women, the mean ANSUR PD is 62.5 mm, with a range from 58 mm to 66 mm defining the 85th percentile for this gender. Applying the same ANSI fabrication tolerance to the 62.5 mm value results in an allowable finished PD range between 60 mm and 65 mm. The calculated range here correlates better at the high end of the female PD range than the lower. Overall then, using a mean statistical PD tailored to gender will allow us to deliver eyewear compliant with industry tolerances and close to our goal of targeting the 85th percentile, but still not close enough. This is as close as we can come in our optical business plan exercise for the invisible man regarding PD.

B. Height—Determining height can appear to be a tough value to determine without first seeing the frame in place on the face. ECPs could estimate better if they were amassing, crunching and analyzing their own job data regarding the final pupil height found and its relationship to a frame’s mid B height value. But they don’t. Luckily, height data similar to the ANSUR study noted above has been amassed by the major OEM prescription and sunglass companies, such as Maui Jim, Oakley, Ray-Ban, Frames Direct and others. These companies have access to tens of thousands of Rxs made using specific frame styles. Manufacturers have therefore been able to quantify the general fitting characteristics—including position of wear values—for every style in their library. From this information, they have arrived at a useful working average pupil position above the frame’s mid B height with a high degree of confidence, within a couple of millimeters. The results reveal the overall pupil height position averages between 3 mm to 5 mm for the majority of glasses. Interestingly, these values also closely correlate with the historical rule of thumb used for blocking bifocals, which is 3 mm below the frame’s 1/2 B midpoint. For example, if we take a 4 mm value from the estimated pupil position above and add the 3 mm below value from the bifocal rule of thumb, we arrive at a bifocal fitting value of 7 mm below the pupil. This results in a position very close to where the lower lid lies—which is the classic fitting reference for bifocals.

Of further interest is how OTC sunglass bifocal manufacturers have settled on placing their bifocal line 6 mm below the frame’s mid B, thereby ensuring the segment line will be clear of interference with distance vision for the majority of wearers. It is not unreasonable to assume that 85 percent of wearers would find their pupil position to be 3 mm to 5 mm above most frame style’s mid B height. Further refinement can be gained by inquiring about the overall fitting preference of the buyer regarding their eyewear—up-close, medium or slightly down their nose—and if they’ve encountered issues with their eyelashes rubbing the back of their lenses.

C. Position of Wear—In lens designs that employ customized POW values, the generally accepted default values are: Pantoscopic Tilt—5 mm; Frame Wrap—5 mm and Vertex Distance—13 mm. Adding in the plus/minus 2 mm measuring allowance for POW values noted above, the default range for pantoscopic tilt and wrap angle values appreciably enlarges.

1. Single Vision—Armed with the fitting and measuring data noted above, here’s a suggested two-tier pricing system for SV lenses:
  1. Budget—Off-the-shelf finished polycarbonate with basic AR.
  2. Premium—Digital free form design using Hi Vex material with Premium AR. This would be my recommended choice, as the Abbe value, Prism Reference Point and ability to tailor base curve to frame and Rx will ensure outstanding vision, cosmetics and comfort.

2. Progressive—Armed with the averaged height data discussed above, we’ll target a pupil height of 4 mm above the chosen frame’s B midpoint. To ensure comfort and allow for common heads-up posture tendencies, we’ll set the default fitting point 1 mm below that position—an adjustment with a track record of proven real world success. Next, to ensure good reading utility, we’ll use a balanced digital progressive free form design, except that we’ll specify the corridor length to lie on the shorter side, where possible. For example, a frame with a B dimension of 40 mm results in a target pupil height of 24 mm, and we’d specify the final progressive fitting point at 23 mm, following with a progressive design with a suggested minimum fitting height that lies between 20 mm and 21 mm. I have personally found this to be a successful recipe, well received by the majority of wearers who prefer a general use progressive design.

A. Style—Most ECPs would agree that helping someone you’ll never see select frames puts both parties at a severe disadvantage. Yet both online and Main Street opticals could help advance and streamline the frame selection process by taking a page from many nationwide retailers’ playbook—present buyers with a selection of pictures featuring five to seven different styles, worn by actual people, from which they choose the selections that are most appealing to them. This method has proven successful in reducing returns and dissatisfied customers because it helps buyers conceptualize how apparel will look when they cannot try it on. Even brick-and-mortar optical faces a similar challenge as buyers cannot see clearly when they are trying on frames. As we all know, the insecurity that surfaces regarding whether the frame chosen is really the “right” choice is the biggest disconnect found during the delivery of finished eyewear.

B. Fit—Here again, big data comes to the rescue. There’s no real secret behind why most frame companies find their product sales centered on only 10 to 15 percent of styles—these styles simply work. But if these top models didn’t prove to be good fits, they would be returned after a short time. And although ethnic considerations do matter when creating an optimal bridge design, we really do not have to see them in person to ascertain this—asking a few simple questions or supplying pictures will suffice. Further, pics illustrating aspects of temple design, nosepads and overall fitting preference—tight, medium and loose—are effective in reducing dissatisfaction after the initial honeymoon experience ends. And both online and in-store opticals can put these tips into practice right now.

C. Bridge Fit—If you could pool customized bridge fitting data from master opticians around the world, you might arrive at a sort of idealized bridge shape where flair, thickness, crest rounding and even default size would be optimized to provide an acceptably comfortable fit for 85 percent of wearers. Some frame companies, such as TD Tom Davies, are doing this now. Remember: No frame designer spends as much time fitting different frames to different faces as a skilled optician.

Does this experimental business plan for fitting an invisible man sound reasonable, or even possible? If you consider the advances in technology appearing everyday—including at-home refraction, 3D facial scanning, 3D frame printing and 4D customized frame milling—I’d say it’s more than possible, it’s probable that optimized prescription, frame fit and cosmetic satisfaction will usher in an age where eyewear buyers will be happier than ever before with their eyewear. Yet there will always be a portion of sales, nearing 10 to 15 percent, where the consumer will wish to return their eyewear. So the final part of our plan for making glasses for the invisible man will be about handling these returns in the most facile and cost-effective manner, while simultaneously increasing the chances that even unhappy customers will become repeat purchasers in the future.

The first thing every large retailer does when merchandise is returned is attempt to ascertain the reasons why, usually by asking the buyer to complete a short satisfaction survey. The metrics revealed here will be analyzed as part of their never ending commitment to improving customer satisfaction as evidenced by a reduction in returns.

But beyond what’s learned by asking questions after the fact, are there other more proactive things that can be done to help bolster an impression of good value? These become part of what I refer to as the total eyewear experience. Offering in-store coffee and pastry stations, serene music, olfactory stimulants or even the high energy of a trunk show are already part of a set of enhanced contact points available to every brick-and-mortar optical shop business. For the invisible man, none of these real world enhancements are possible, so onliners will have to focus on more than just the product and ramp up shopper interest through carefully crafted emails. Further, ensuring eyewear arrives to customers making the best first impression now becomes a Grade A priority for anyone not delivering the product in person. Therefore, all eyewear retailers should consider the following short checklist designed to create the best first and lasting impression:

I. Packaging—The box arrives. It must be clean, neat, labeled with your business brand and suitable for return, if necessary.

II. Case—The most neglected part of the total eyewear experience. Branded cases are rarely designed or chosen with real world transport concerns in mind. Consider offering or including an optional additional leather case of high perceived quality to help clearly differentiate yourself from the competition. (I offer my clients a large choice of colors, sizes and styles in leather and other premium materials at eyewear delivery. They often remark the case has become their favorite part of their eyewear experience.)

III. Cleaning cloth and cleaner—Frame manufacturers are notoriously thrifty when it comes to the size and quality of microfiber cloth they supply. Here’s an opportunity to impress and solidify your business’s brand. Logo, name, contact, phone, email and website information can be printed on each cloth. If possible, try ensuring your lens cleaner has a pleasant and aromatic quality.

IV. Personalization—Everyone likes products personalized. Engravers and printers today represent a small investment, and you can offer the ability of having name, initials or phone, etc., placed on frame, case, cloth or all. Further, even the option of just providing color choice for case and cloth generates strong, favorable and lasting impressions of increased value centered on your business’ brand.

V. Follow up—A no brainer. Follow-up contact is almost as important as touch in solidifying a “business” relationship. You have their email—use it. Just don’t abuse it.

The recipe for handling unhappy customers hasn’t changed in 200 years. It still boils down to adhering to the old adage “the customer is always right,” even when they’re not. By being willing to embrace the idea that all customer dissatisfaction cannot be easily pinned or blamed on someone or something specific, you’ll free yourself from the myopia of counting pennies because you’ll be too busy counting repeat-customer dollars. And recognize that even customized products like prescription eyeglasses will have to accept the reality of returns, exchanges and yes, even refunds. But your willingness to satisfy will almost always be met with their willingness to be helped. This is very important—do not become so focused on your bottom line costs that you lose track of the larger retail forest in which Rx eyewear lives today.

So keep it simple: Whether you’re in front of buyer or behind a screen, remember what every shopper really desires deep down is a sincere and authentic interaction with a person who is skilled, genuine and trustworthy. And trust on both sides of the dispensing transaction means a happier outcome for all involved. Never forget the value of touch, whether in person or via email/messaging. And even though most ECPs say they do this now, the reality is often quite different and evidenced by the nonstop venting found on social media by both sides.

There’s so much to be learned by imagining how you would make quality eyewear and create unassailable value in eyewear within the mind of someone you might never see. Even brick-and-mortar eyewear offices will soon have to select, measure and make eyewear for people they’ll never see. And imagine the universe of what could be done to differentiate yourself from the commoditizing effects of online competition when you’re sitting across from them today. Tomorrow, when your first customer arrives, have your staff ready and anxious to deliver the absolute best total eyewear experience they’ve ever had.

Contributing editor Barry Santini is a New York State licensed optician based in Seaford, N.Y.