This December I’m determined not to look back at the year gone by, but to the future instead. I admit that this will be somewhat difficult given the effects of the pandemic are still raging around us. Covid-19 has changed the world, but with that change comes opportunity for some and, sadly, failure for those who don’t adapt.

One thing I’ve learned in my 19 years in business is that the eyewear industry is slow to adapt and change with the times. I read about other sectors of the economy and their talk of rapid evolution due to the pandemic and I thought about our evolution. It seems to me that the businesses surviving and thriving are the ones innovating and changing at breakneck speed. When the pandemic hit, half of us stuck a white bit of paper in the window saying, ‘Closed due to cornonavirus’, then ripped it off and reopened as if nothing had happened several months later – me included.

Some opticians and groups reported their best ever third quarter turnovers as they bounced back and gobbled up customers looking for somewhere to spend money.

I read an interesting quote yesterday from John Donahoe, CEO at Nike, who said: ‘The accelerated consumer shift toward digital is here to stay. We know that digital is the new normal. The consumer today is digitally grounded and simply will not revert back.’

This is a sports apparel business, much simpler than eyewear, but one three years ahead of its own expected schedule, that now gets 30% of its turnover from digital sales.

So what opportunities are there out there for opticians in the UK? What should we be doing to retain or grow 30%?

I’ve been giving this some thought these past few months and I think as an industry our barriers are an inability to properly embrace an online digital world because we’re scared of it. I don’t think we should be. There are now big global eyewear companies that sell online to the end consumer, yet they mostly don’t seem to make any profits. What they lack is a loyal customer base who needs to come to a location and have an eye test. After the test, how we then sell them vision correction solutions is our opportunity.

As I see it, we need to evolve and do so pretty quickly. The rapid growth of technology services has made it easier than ever to go digital. You can access services like Shoppify quickly and easily to get yourself selling online at very affordable prices. Going digital doesn’t mean you have to sell to the whole world, and you don’t need to be spending a fortune to do it. Here are my tips.

  • If you haven’t added online bookings for eye tests, it’s the number one thing to do in the new year. I can tell you that since I added online bookings to my clinics, appointments rose by 30%.
  • All customers who book online are very sensitive to email offers and incentives. Have someone in the business work with a service like Campaign Monitor. It’s an easy to use and powerful email marketing tool.
  • Start offering customers the ability to buy extra pairs of the same frame online in other colours. It’s the easiest dispense you can do. You just need someone on your team responsible for the online sales. Incentivise them for emails they send which convert into sales.
  • Send customers a link to your new Shoppify store where they can buy all of the frames that they tried on and noted down when they were in the store.
  • Have loyal customers refer friends and offer discounts for them. You don’t have to discount an existing customer but use a discount to get a new one – made easy with your new online booking service.

Online doesn’t have to be a race to the bottom, more like a connection to and convenience for your customer. If you don’t sell online, someone else soon will be. I think the mistake we make is thinking that online is selling to millions. Our target needs only be the few thousand existing customers, their family and friends.

So at the end of this year of change, I urge you to start 2021 with a digital first strategy. That’s what I’m going to do. Connecting and leveraging bricks and mortar to services and relationships is a unique selling point our online competitors don’t have… yet!

Happy blooming Christmas everyone and a wonderful, digital 2021.