Simon Jones: Time for an online rethink

Simon Jones

I started working on Optician in 2010, so after the emergence of online eyewear retail, but long before its widespread acceptance. In that time, I’ve seen online eyewear retailers come and go, but I’m yet to see any online eyewear entity rip up the rule book and make a massive success of it.  

Many of the online eyewear retail pioneers have actually adapted their business models to incorporate what they once said was ‘the old way of doing things,’ namely, physical stores.  

There can’t be many retail sectors where so many punches have failed to land, but retail optics seems to be going the distance. 

That’s not to say things aren’t changing, because they’re evolving quickly, but many of the bigger changes are now happening prior to purchase. Where high street opticians once did battle with online retailers on price, the challenge now, and in future, will be influencing purchasing decisions of potential patients with ingenuity. 

Data from GE Capital Retail Bank in 2022 says 81% of retail shoppers conduct online research before a product or service purchase. Consumers want to ensure they’re not only getting the best deal, but also the smartest choice for their needs. That means there are going to be eyeballs on practice websites, so it’s probably a good time to get on the computer and ask if it’s an accurate reflection of what’s on offer at the practice.  

I’ve seen countless websites that are a pale representation of an excellent practice. Just because you’re not selling products online (yet), it shouldn’t mean your website cannot influence would-be customers. 

As Tom Davies alludes in latest column, eyewear brands are changing the way they operate online.  

I noticed this recently with Mykita, a company I have tremendous respect for because of the way it operates and innovates. Until recently, it never sold ophthalmic frames online. Instead, it pointed would be customers to its optical retail partners.  

This has recently changed to allow the purchase of ophthalmic frames via the site, but at the full RRP and without the option of adding prescription lenses, which keeps its own optician partners happy.