In broad terms, e-commerce is defined as the online transactional exchange of currency or data in return for goods and services. These transactions typically involve very little relationship between the seller and the buyer. For many years this has been a lucrative formula to ecommerce success; convenience + right product + right price = win. Now things are looking a little different. Consumers want more.

Today, with thousands of new businesses entering the online shopping market every year, the pool of options for shoppers runs deep. This combined with the steady rise in social media use would indicate consumers are seeking more meaningful connections with the businesses they are looking to purchase from. A statement no more true than during a global pandemic, where social isolation and business closures drove people indoors and on to their electronic devices for both practical and emotional fulfilment. According to over half of the world’s population (3.96 bil.) are active users of social media and the gap between social media versus search engine use in the quest for brand information is closing. (1)

All this to say, that the purpose for launching your online storefront is not only to recapture sales revenue from the growing number of online retailers selling lenses and frames, but also to protect your relationship with your patients and subsequently the integrity of their optical health care. Therein lies Patient-Commerce.

If e-commerce is defined as the online exchange of currency for the convenient purchase of goods and services, then we, at Sightly, define patient-commerce as e-commerce meets practitioner value. One approach pursues the sale, the other pursues the relationship and the health of the patient. Even Warby Parker, a company founded on e-commerce, quickly recognized the value in brick and mortar, where they offer comprehensive eye exams.

Bringing Patient-Commerce To Your Online Storefront

An editorial, published in an April 2020 issue of Ophthalmic & Physiological Optics: The Journal of The College of Optometrists, explores patients’ attitudes toward online shopping for eyewear. While the study in this editorial did find online shopping for eyewear is likely to continue to grow, it is of interest to note the authors have also found many people are motivated to get an eye exam for the purposes of updating their prescription, rather than check for potentially threatening eye disease.(2) With this in mind it is increasingly important that as practitioners you seek ways to keep your patients' focus on their optical health, over convenience, when purchasing eyewear online.

One way to achieve this is to use your e-store as a tool of engagement. Consider these 5 strategies for elevating your site from e-commerce to patient-commerce by introducing your unique practitioner value.

1. Reset Your Thinking

Before you take any action, make sure you approach your plan with the right objective. If you are looking at your new online store as solely another revenue stream and your objective is to increase profits, your efforts are going to be sales driven and self-focussed. You must begin by seeing your online store as an extension of your practice and the relationship you have with your patients. Then align your actions with the intent of being mutually beneficial.

2. Put Your Patients First

If you think like your patients, you will serve your patients well and they in turn will trust you and your recommendations. No one wants to feel like they are little more than a number, especially when it comes to emotional purchases. Eye care products indeed fit the bill of emotional purchases where much more than dollars will be invested in the buying decision. There are some things you can do that will show your patients you care about their needs and their time:

  • Listen. Get feedback on your store’s user experience
  • Use analytics and reporting to track your store and social media activity – learn where your patients are engaged and what they aren’t responding to
  • Follow up after purchases to ensure products and delivery meet or exceed expectations
  • Follow up on abandoned carts and offer support in completing the transaction
  • Offer a loyalty program and/or promotions
  • Have a clear and visible return policy
  • Keep your product offering fresh and up-to-date; make sure pricing is accurate and descriptions are detailed
  • Make use of platform features that will offer convenience and support to your patients such as:
    • Appointment requests
    • Automated reminders on re-orders
    • Virtual try-on – coming soon to Sightly!
    • Virtual chat – coming soon to Sightly!
    • Doctor assigned products – they can be loaded to the shopping cart during the chat
    • Order for family members
3. Align Your Communication Channels

First, if you’re not using social media, or you have a presence but you’re neglecting it, you are ignoring a huge opportunity to engage with your existing and potential patients. You’re also missing out on an important conduit to controlling your own narrative. People are talking about you regardless; better your message than theirs. Remember the statistics above – 3.96 billion active users.

Second, do not neglect your website. Do not make the mistake of thinking any site will do. This is your first impression, the face of your business. If your website is dated, links are broken or it’s difficult to navigate, it will be your last impression. You can invest a lot or a little and have a great looking website either way. If you need help in this area, just ask and we’ll be more than happy to guide you.

Third, make sure your contact information across all your channels is accurate and consistent.

4. Designate A Staff Contact

Have you ever walked into a Starbucks and the barista greets you by name? She knows your order before you reach the counter, she knows exactly how you like your beverage and how to make it. You feel special. You feel looked after and you are immediately put at ease. That feeling is the comfort of familiarity. Purchasing lenses, dry eye solutions or glasses is a lot more complicated than a low-fat, half-sweet, double-shot, mocha latte, so imagine how comforted your patients will feel when they call in for support with their online purchase and the friendly voice on the other end of the line belongs to someone who is ready and equipped to help them.

Having a designated site administrator on staff will also be beneficial to your team when coordinating roles and budgeting resources. Our most successful practice partners have employed this strategy.

5. Adapt To Change

Do not let old habits die hard. The reason for tracking your store’s activity and collecting feedback from your patients is so you can proactively recalculate and course correct from time to time. People change as do their behaviours. You must stay informed and be willing to change with them. After all, there was a time we thought purchasing eyewear would never happen online.


(1) Hootsuite & We Are Social (2020), “Digital 2020 July Global Statshot,” retrieved from

(2) Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 16 Apr. 2020, “Patient Views About Online Purchasing of Eyewear” Alisa M. Sivak, Marlee M. Spafford, Elizabeth L. Irving;

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