The Analogy of the Frog
We all know the story. If you put a frog in hot water, he will immediately jump out…to safety. However, if you put a frog in cool water and slowly increase the temperature, he will not recognize the danger…and will stay in the water to his demise.
What in the world does this have to do with independent optometry? After visiting dozens of practices across the U.S.over the past couple of years, I can tell you that many independent practices continue to do well in this difficult economy. At the same time, it is clear that competitive pressures are increasing. I would submit that we need to be careful not to let our success cloud our appraisal of the marketplace.
My favorite philosopher Yogi Berra stated that, “You can observe a lot by just watching.” So, with all the change around us, it is imperative that we sharpen our focus and recognize the rising competitive challenge even if we have not felt it yet.
How do patients (i.e., consumers) view our practices? The Bain study "Do you see what we see? The future of independent optometry," which was commissioned by VSP, clearly indicated that independent optometry is preferred for eye care services. However, it also showed that an increasing number of patients are willing to shop outside our practices for materials.
Does our materials value proposition need a reboot? Are we delivering the shopping experience which our patients are demanding? Might we need to consider a common banner under which we could collectively market our practices to effectively counter the constant competitive drumbeat?
Here are a few statistics that grabbed my attention:
- Online shopping is here to stay. 41% of consumers say that they would purchase contacts online; 22% are willing to research eyewear online; and 21% say they would purchases glasses online.¹
- Customers want value. With independent optometry’s share of the materials market declining to 40%, consumers may be questioning the value independents offer and turning elsewhere to get it.¹
- In 2011, consumers spent over $1 billion in optical material purchases online.²
As I see it, independent optometry needs to guard against a false sense of security and maintain a futuristic view. We dare not allow the competitive temperature to increase without a timely response.
¹Bain Brief by Elizabeth Spaulding, Bain & Company, "Do you see what we see? The future of independent optometry," http://www.bain.com/publications/articles/the-future-of-independent-optometry.aspx
²Estimates derived by VSP utilizing data cited in the Vision Council Internet Influence Report, 2011, Vision Council Consumer Barometer, December 2011 and Consumers Digest Special Investigative Report: Optical illusion, August 2008.