eCommerce as an Extension of Your Practice
Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials: Are you tired of all the stereotyping and artificial grouping? Do you understand these groups? Who came up with these groups and who defines them? Do you know where you fit in? Do you fit in anywhere? Do you truly identify with any of them?
If you’re anything like me, the real question is, “Does any of this have any impact on my everyday life?”
As I have so graciously entered my 40s, I have reached the conclusion that while I may be considered Gen X, I truly do identify with many characteristics in each of these groups. I embrace technology (Gen Y), I live a digital life (Millennial), I expect excellent customer service and enjoy forming relationships with people I trust (Gen X). If you asked me which of these was the most important in my day to day life, I would have a hard time selecting just one. I expect that many of my optometric colleagues feel the same way. I expect that many of my staff and my patients also feel the same way.
All of these components fit together in a way that allows us to live in a way we find enjoyable, efficient, and easy. Most of the time I don’t feel like I am making conscious decisions about how I am doing something, but rather why. I bring this up because I believe our patients feel the same way about how they purchase contact lenses.
Case in point when it comes to contact lens eCommerce. If a patient chooses to purchase their contact lenses online, do they do it because they do NOT value the excellent customer service and relationships they enjoy with your office, or do they do it because it is convenient and makes their lives easier?
Would it be easier for them if they had to call and request a written copy of their contact lens prescription, which they had to pick up in person, or would it be easier for them to log in to their patient portal and extract an electronic copy at any time? Which of these situations, which I can control, will result in a happier patient? I believe the second scenario, providing patients their medical information at their fingertips, will soon be among the most basic expectations that a patient has of our offices.
Do I worry about the financial impact of such activities on my practice? I would be silly if I didn’t. However, I have learned that for those patients whom you make this process available, they become your best advocates. A patient that purchases contact lenses online is also the patient that tends to embrace technology, be Internet savvy and be active on some social media platform. These patients, after a good (or bad) experience are likely to tell their network about their experience with your office.
This is a perfect opportunity to use the services that you provide in your office as a way to differentiate yourself from other providers and an excellent way to build your brand. Practices that offer the opportunity for their patients, through links on their OWN website, a method for purchasing contact lenses online, build yet another avenue that patients can use to purchase materials at any time of day.
Four years ago, in our practice, when patients did not have this choice, we had many outside contact lens prescription requests. We decided to embrace the opportunity of eCommerce, tell patients about it when they were in the office, and initiate reinforcing communication with them often throughout the year to remind them of this benefit. In the past four years, we have seen a sharp decline in contact lens prescription verifications and a steady increase in patients shopping online. We know this because they are doing it through our Website and we receive compensation when the lenses are delivered to our office.
As a small practice, we will never have the funds to compete on an advertising level with some of the larger outlets, so we have decided to partner with those vendors that keep us in the loop, keeping us engaged in the purchasing lifecycle of our patients, reinforcing the importance of our care and directing them back to our office when care is due.
Each day we are faced with choices about how to best provide care for our patients. I believe that care extends far beyond what we do in the office on the day of the exam. Giving our patients options and access is a reality. We expect this in our own lives. We engage in conversation that acknowledges the existence of other eCommerce entities. We discuss the reasons why choosing to support the vendors we recommend is in their (and our) best interest.
Ignoring the reality will not make eCommerce go away. It is here to stay, my friends, and you have the choice to go along for the ride or stand and watch as others enjoy the thrill.
I say ride. It’s exhilarating. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.