The conversation about online ordering has certainly evolved! It was only a few years ago, back in 2004, when discussions about online sales focused on whether large commercial organizations were compliant with the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act and the subsequent prescription verification concerns.
In the succeeding years, Canada opened up online ordering for contact lenses without prescriptions, while online sales of contact lens products moved into the mainstream and joined the emerging industry of online prescription spectacle and fashion frame sales. Historically, practitioners have resisted online sales and controlling the prescription. Now the choice is much different. Patients today have added online purchasing to their preferred methods of ordering products like commodity contact lenses.
There are two primary strategies for a practice to respond to and compete in the current environment: enter into the world of online ordering and increase services to patients, or adjust the design of the practice to include a fee and services medical model. Each strategy has its own advantages, so the choice really depends on your individual motivations and practice objectives.
Improve Your Digital ID
Improving your digital identity is critical to increasing services to patients. Your digital ID is your representation to patients in the online community, and should include your website, social media presence, patient communications, scheduling, product information, mobility and online ordering.
By enhancing your digital ID, you can offer your patients services they desire in a medium they are familiar with and, in fact, already use for other medical and commercial activities.
Remember, transitioning your practice to include online ordering is not intended to make you competitive with the large commercial organizations; rather, the purpose of including online ordering in your digital ID is to allow your patients to order directly from you. Patients typically do not intend to buy from other sources, but when products are not easily acquired through the practice, they may be effectively forced to seek other outside options.
Getting involved is actually easier than it might appear. To begin, there are preconfigured systems available that can provide your practice with access to online ordering systems. Here is an easy step-to-step guide:
1. Perform a strategic review of your practice and business objectives.
2. Conduct a product review and select two primary products in each category. Starting with commodity toric and sphere contact lens is the easiest because they are already well established, and well suited for an online ordering environment.
3. For your primary products, meet with product sales representatives or distributor representatives to further understand the promotional and support options available. Most manufacturers and distributors, such as ABB Concise and MyOnlineOptical (Essilor), have systems and assets available; they typically include items such as direct patient delivery, practitioner locators, patient education materials and website content templates.
4. Contact your top three insurance vendors and obtain a complete listing of capabilities. Most insurance providers offer prefigured systems, such as Eyefinity (VSP Global), which can be customized for your needs.
5. Include your digital ID (e-mail, web address, Facebook page, etc.) in all patient communications. The purpose of enhancing your digital ID is to promote the systems in your practice that support quality eye care and are convenient for patient use.
New Trends in Online Ordering
Online ordering is only going to increase. In the United States, the contact lens market, and specifically the soft lens market, is anticipated to continue growing between 5% and 6% annually.1
Today’s new trend is an increased focus toward mobility. Most leading manufacturers and online ordering system providers are moving toward platforms that allow high quality online experiences with mobile smart phones or tablets. As the mobility transition continues, it is important for a practice to keep pace with technological changes.
Google, for example, reported a 130% increase in mobile browsing.2 The percentage of consumers willing to purchase using their mobile device, as reported by McKinsay & Company, is 54% for Android users and 64% for iPhone users.3 In 2010, 61.5 million people reported owning smart phones.4 Google and Apple are the mobile smart phone market leaders, and comprise nearly 50% of the total U.S. mobile market.1
Given this significant move toward online mobile use, now is the perfect time to build mobility into your practice strategy. Innovative companies like Global EyeVentures have led the way in creating patient-friendly mobile applications. Web searches on smart phones are a growing trend and will soon rival the traditional computer browser search.
The current atmosphere in mobile search and application development is similar to the beginning of the online sales era. We once thought patients would not want to buy products online, but now they carry mobile access in their pockets. Connecting your practice to your patients’ need for convenience will be a key driver for your success.
A Step Away from Retail
So what should you do if you have decided to move toward a less retail-centered practice? You do have options, but developing your strategic objectives and core tactics are critical for a comprehensive and logical patient presentation. If the products you select are not coordinated with your practice objectives, it creates a confusing message and undermines your objective.
If you’re considering a move to reduce your exposure to the retail side of a practice, then select products that best fit your patients needs and are not as commercially available. Companies like Alden Optical and SynergEyes, for example, offer good contact lens options that are custom manufactured to each patient’s specific visional requirements and provide a transition to a medical model that is both compelling and understandable to patients. Supplementing commodity products with custom products will round out your practice and reduce your exposure to retail competition.
Whether you design you practice to move in a medical model direction or add online and mobile services, you have options that will help you better serve patients and improve profitability.
Mark W. Bertolin was previously vice president of CooperVision where he managed Technology, Development and Clinical-Professional Services. He is currently the president of Innovative Insights LLC, a firm dedicated to bringing fresh perspective business solutions and analysis to increase market share and profitability through technology and strategy development to eye care and private equity companies. He has no commercial or financial interest and holds no positions in the companies referenced.
1. ComScore. The 2010 mobile year in review. 2011 Feb. Available at:
www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Presentations_Whitepapers/2011/2010_Mobile_Year_in_Review (Accessed May 2011).
2. Klais B. Why Google’s new keyword data may actually make 2011 the year of mobile marketing. Search Engine Land. 2011 Jan. Available at:
www.searchengineland.com/why-googles-new-keyword-data-may-actually-make-2011-year-of-mobile-marketing-61171 (Accessed June 2011).
3. McKinsey & Company. Increasingly open to using mobile devices to make purchases. iConsumer 2009-2010 U.S. 13-64 year old internet users, 13+in 2010.
4. Shonfeld E. comScore: Android passes iPhone in total U.S. subscribers. TechCrunch. 2011 Jan. Available at:
www.techcrunch.com/2011/01/06/android-passes-iphone (Accessed June 2011).