Turning eCommerce Into an Advantage

By Daniel L. Mannen, OD, FAAO November 01, 2015

Well, here I am, back at the old As Eye See It blog desk ... and the topic this month: eCommerce. 

We all equate eCommerce with online buying and selling, but it really is much more. It also includes business to business buying and selling, data collection and utilization, marketing to both new and potential customers, and interaction between consumers, i.e., patients. In other words, eCommerce has the potential to impact nearly every aspect of our practice. We need to turn eCommerce into an advantage!

So, let's start with online shopping for glasses (and contact lenses). I think it is safe to say that most doctors have some level of concern about patients filling their prescriptions online. I know I do. As was pointed out in a Wall Street Journal article dated Oct. 20, 2015, and entitled, "The Pros and Cons of Buying Glasses Online," "the lure of low prices, huge selection, and convenience is compelling.” Today, about four percent of optical prescriptions are filled online. Doctors are well aware of the many potential pitfalls which a patient can encounter with online optical purchasing, but it is a viable patient option.

So, what's a doctor to do? Clearly, we must work hard to educate and solidify the connection with our patients. Doctors understand that quality products, proper material selection, and accurate measurement make a difference. We also understand that no single pair of glasses fits all activities. Therefore, filling a prescription is not nearly as simple as it seems. In fact, larger and more complex prescriptions must be very precise to be maximally effective. What we need is a clear value proposition, which will educate our patients and combat oversimplification and a dash to the lowest price. We must offer selection, convenience, and curb appeal if our dispensaries are to be attractive to our patients.

But even then, some will still choose to shop online. In that case, it is imperative that we put a positive spin on it by referring them to a quality online source (perhaps our own) and lay the groundwork for a return to our practices for future services.

So, while we may have ongoing concerns about online shopping, we also have tremendous opportunities to achieve increased efficiencies in our practices with seamless interaction between doctors, suppliers, and patients … all of which can help us be more competitive. Cost savings can be achieved by increased integration with our suppliers by enabling more movement of information and less movement of materials. A stronger “e-connection” with our patients and can lead to a more individual offering of products and services. Accurate data about our patients can really help us to both inform and generate interest. And finally, with the explosion of social media, improved patient experiences can quickly expand our reach as our patients talk to each other.

So, what is my take on eCommerce?  Since eCommerce is here to stay, we need to ramp up our efforts to improve our e-connection with our patients. A compelling value proposition that is paired with business efficiencies and a strong connection is the recipe for success.

According to the WSJ article, surveys show that the satisfaction of online buyers is higher than store buyers. But Stephen Kodey, senior director of research at the Vision Council, suggested these findings may be due to lower expectations of online buyers for quality and service. We all want our prescriptions to achieve maximum benefit for our patients, and that means educating and restoring high patient expectations.  And for those of us who are not “e-experts,” we need to partner with those who have the expertise if we are to truly turn eCommerce into an advantage.

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