It's a New Era in the Business of Optometry
By: Sandy Stark
5 min read, Practice Management
The following is a Sightly contributed article first published in EyeDigest Magazine May 2021 for BC Doctors of Optometry. https://issuu.com/bcdoctorsofoptometry/docs/eye_digest_may_2021
For some years now, and most especially in recent months, much coverage has been dedicated to changes occurring in the field of optometry. A significant portion of that attention focusses on advancements in technology. By and large these advancements are widely accepted and promoted as they pertain to in-office investments that offer patients the latest in comprehensive exams and treatments. These changes make sense to the practitioner who has spent their career embedded in older, established business models. In contrast, however, the introduction of e-commerce is one technology advancement that is slow to gain acceptance despite market trends endorsing its application.
The growing demand for purchasing eye care products online has been a trend for some time now that is fast tracked by a global pandemic. In Ontario, for example, the Ontario Association of Optometrists reported, due to strict physical distancing and infection control guidelines optometrists returned to work [June 2020] with patient volumes reduced by fifty per cent, and projected the loss of nearly two million comprehensive eye exams over the following twelve months. [Ontario Association of Optometrists, 2020 (1)].
The Business of Optometry
Optometry practices primarily rely on two revenue streams. The first, naturally, being fee for service. However, with that stream significantly interrupted by as much as seventy-five to eighty percent, the importance of the second stream, retail sales, is suddenly propelled to the foreground. This shift in focus must take into consideration the commoditization of a number of eye care products such as contact lenses, sunglasses, eye drops and vitamins to name a few. What this means is more consumers are seeking the goods, that are a significant source of an optometry practice’s revenue, through non-traditional eyecare retailers where purchasing decisions are driven by price, and convenience. Dr. Jeff Goodhew, OD and Dr. Tina Goodhew, OD recognize this,“Consumer behaviour has been changing over the past few years towards purchasing more goods and services online and the pandemic has accelerated this. Ultimately our patients want convenience whether it be reordering their contact lenses at 11:00 pm or pre-purchasing products and arranging for hassle free curbside pickup. Our patients want to buy from us and appreciate having multiple channels to do so, including e-commerce. Sightly has been critical to our success over the past year and we feel it will be a necessity for high performing practices moving forward.” So imperative now is it to reinvent the business model of an optometry practice that Dr. Arthur B. Epstein, OD, FAOO, based in Phoenix, AZ said “Optometry has moved on and refractive eye care is rapidly becoming more consumer than profession driven. Economics will hasten its demise, but automation and technology will surely seal the coffin.” [Arthur B. Eptstein, August 2020 (2)]
Now add in two heavyweight generations that make up a combined total of fifty-five percent of the world’s population, Millennials and Gen Z. Together they cover an age range of seven to thirty-eight years, and have a spending power of nearly three trillion, in the U.S. [YPulse, 2020 (3)] . While Millennials are seeking instant gratification and an entertaining, pleasing experience, Gen Z are seeking value and practicality and it is believed they will dominate forty percent of consumer shopping. Seventy-one percent of Millennials consider their phone to be their most important shopping tool. [AdWeek, 2019 (4)], while Gen Z is two times more likely than Millennials to make mobile purchases. [99 Firms (5)] These groups are digital natives, they are driven by social responsibility, they want to support local and they are your existing and next patients.
While their behaviours differ somewhat, living up to the expectations of these two dynamic patient groups, means meeting them where they are, and establishing meaningful relationships. Today’s cancel culture along with more discerning spending habits means these generations are taking their dollars to whomever is answering their call the best. Dr. Ritesh Patel, OD uses his online storefront effectively stating, "As eye care physicians, we love making connections with our patients but can find time limiting to do so. With our online presence and e-store, we now have a way to build upon our foundation of this relationship and grow it 24-7. This serves as a huge advantage and allows us to continue to help our patients and grow our practice."
For many practices, introducing an online storefront is the next logical step in creating the conduit that marries the needs of both practitioners and their patients. Human contact is essential to maintaining the integrity of patients’ eye health and protecting the first revenue stream of fee to service. Offering an online storefront is essential to securing the second revenue stream, retail sales, as it eases the tension created by the patient’s conflicting desires of wanting online convenience and wanting to support local businesses. Offering an e-commerce solution ultimately makes a patient’s purchasing decision easier which translates into happier patients and stronger relationships. According to Dr. Wes McCann, OD, "Patients’ buying habits, especially during this pandemic, have forever changed. The online retail environment is not only familiar for patients, but a comfortable avenue for patients to purchase from. Patients purchase online due to convenience and with the perception that they are saving money, however, that is oftentimes not the case. Patients want to buy local and support local businesses, but we as business owners need to make it convenient for patients to do business with us. Sightly offers ECPs an opportunity to engage with our patients on their time. While using smart reminders we can optimally notify patients when we know they will need us for a re-order. Adding a patient-commerce [e-commerce for optometry] option to an optometry office in today's retail environment is unquestionably a necessity to be successful for today and tomorrow's patients."
For B.C. practices wishing to introduce an e-commerce solution, the Launch Online Grant program has recently received additional funding and expanded the eligibility criteria. (Launch Online)
(1) Newswire.ca; Ontario Faces Crisis as Millions of Eye Exams in Jeopardy (June 2020), retrieved from https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/ontario-faces-crisis-as-millions-of-eye-exams-in-jeopardy-896299807.html
(2) Review of Optometry; Off the Cuff: Finally, The Truth Comes Out: Vision Care Plans Are Not Our Friends (August 2020); Arthur B. Epstein, OD, FAAO; https://www.reviewofoptometry.com/newsletter/op/optometric-physician-august-3-2020
(3) YPulse; Millennials & Gen Z Teens’ Combined Spending Power Is Nearly $3 Trillion in 2020 (January 2020), retrieved from https://www.ypulse.com/article/2020/01/09/millennials-gen-z-teens-combined-spending-power-is-nearly-3-trillion-in-2020/
(4) Adweek; Infographic: 73% of Millennials Use Their Phones to Shop Online (January 2019), retrieved from https://www.adweek.com/performance-marketing/infographic-73-of-millennials-use-their-phones-to-shop-online/
(5) 99 Firms; Generation Z Statistics, retrieved from https://99firms.com/blog/generation-z-statistics/#gref
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