Simon Jones: Which? way
Author: Simon Jones
Set against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, the annual Best and Worst Opticians report from consumer website, Which?, provided few surprises, but it did hint at how the landscape may shift post-Covid-19.
Telephone triage, video consultations and downloadable eye charts were some of the ways the report said opticians had adjusted their ways of working during lockdown. The report’s author, Anna Studman, also opined that it would be likely that a lot of these measures would remain in place as lockdown eased. However, telemedicine is likely to be fast-tracked by retailers and play an even bigger role in the sector. Now the public has had a taste, it won’t want to go back to the old days.
The pandemic has been the catalyst for a huge shift in the way the public thinks. If we look at grocery shopping as an example, online channels took roughly 23 years to account for just 7% share of the market. In the past four months, that figure has doubled to 14%.
But will what has happened for groceries, also happen for glasses and eye care? It’s unlikely to be at the same rate, but online retailers are getting more savvy with fitting solutions all time and the customer satisfaction is demonstrable – Spex4less actually had the best satisfaction rating of any retailer in the report with 87%. Importantly, that satisfaction metric also includes recommendations to others. It will be interesting to see where the online offerings by Specsavers and Vision Express place in next year’s Which? rankings.
The impact of online retail and telemedicine isn’t new, but the pandemic had added layer of complexity to the threat. Digital platforms have also found favour with regulators. Online refraction app, Visibly (née Opternative) was given special dispensation by the US Food and Drug Administration in April to operate in the US during the pandemic, something that may be hard to take away. Change is coming whether we like it or not.