Don’t Lose Business to Online Contact Lens Retailers


Reassure patients with proactive communication and patient education during COVID-19

As we discussed in our last post, there is a lot of misinformation circulating during COVID-19. If you run an eye care practice, your patients may be concerned or confused about what’s safe and what’s not, what services your practice is offering, and how to get what they need, like contact lens refills.

Just like patients are increasingly turning to online eyewear retailers like Warby Parker for prescription eyeglasses, contact lens wearers are being lured by low prices and convenience to buy online. 

According to the Vision Council’s annual VisionWatch internet influence study on eyewear consumers’ online buying habits, online sales reached over $2.1 billion in 2018. Nearly 35 percent of recent buyers reported using the internet during their last contact lens purchase.

What can you do to keep your patients coming to you for their contact lens needs, especially now? It’s a mix of educating patients and targeted marketing efforts.  

What online retailers’ patient survey data show

An estimated 45 million people in the U.S. wear contact lenses, according to CDC data. It is troubling that statistics also show that up to 88 percent of contact lens wearers reported at least one behavior that put them at risk for a contact lens–related eye infection. The top risk behavior was waiting longer to replace lenses and lens storage cases than prescribed.

During COVID-19, your patients may be seeing scary stories online about risks to contact lens wearers. Reassure them that contact lenses themselves will not give you COVID-19, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). Now’s the time to reinforce proper hygiene when handling lenses. Since contact lens wearers touch their faces and eyes when inserting and removing lenses, it’s imperative that they are washing their hands frequently and thoroughly. 

For more on this, see Helping Non-Adherent Patients Find Success with Contact Lenses

If you’re not proactively letting patients know that your practice can refill their contact lens supplies during COVID-19, you risk losing them to online retailers.

Patients may be uncertain how to refill their contact lens supplies at this time, or worried about the cost. If you’re not being proactive about addressing these concerns, you risk losing your patients to online contact lens sellers. Online retailer 1-800-CONTACTS has been the biggest threat to eye care providers, as well as the subject of legal battles over setting price floors on contact lenses. 

The company told Consumer Reports’ Consumerist that according to their own surveys, “70 percent of people who buy lenses from online sellers replace their contacts as recommended most of the time, compared to only 61 percent of those getting lenses from their eye doctors.” The survey also found that 60 percent of online buyers replace their contact lens cases every nine months or less; only 51 percent of customers who bought contact lens cases from their eye doctor replaced them this frequently. 

Consumerist noted, “Of course, 1-800-CONTACTS’ questions and results aren’t without ulterior motive, as the company uses them to point out that when customers don’t have to pay full-price for contacts, they can afford to get new lenses as recommended.”

Rather than feel threatened by these statistics, eye doctors should see this as an opportunity to better serve the needs of their contact lens patients. Faced with market “disrupters” like Warby Parker and 1-800-Contacts, traditional medical practices must identify the strengths of the disrupters’ business model and identify their own relative advantages, according to the Review of Optometry

Talk about cost and what you offer patients that online retailers can’t

First, address the issue of cost with your contact lens patients upfront. Don’t wait until they bring it up. It’s a best practice to help your patients understand the cost of their care. It’s also a way to communicate the value you offer as an experienced eye care professional that online retailers do not. 

Sharing the video, “Why Buy a Year’s Supply (of contact lenses),” helps patients understand the benefits of buying in bulk—cost, convenience, and compliance—and can boost your rate of annual contact lens orders. 

Patients may not know that many eye care practices offer special discounts and rebates, and allow patients to exchange lenses if their prescription changes.

Promote your patient-friendly policies they may be unaware of. For instance, patients may not know that unlike other retailers, many eye care practices have an “open box policy” for contact lenses, meaning that if their prescription changes they can exchange their old lenses for new ones for free, even if the box is already open. Also let your contact lens patients know that as an eye care provider, you have access to rebates and savings that online retailers may not. On your website, emails, social media, and practice voicemail, tell patients how they can get their contact lenses now while your office is temporarily closed—whether that’s online ordering through your office, no-contact curbside pickup, or another solution. 

Focus on eye health

Of course, the most important issue to communicate to your patients is that if they are experiencing problems with their contact lenses, such as eye infection or dry eyes, only a trained eye doctor can diagnose and treat those issues. Emphasize that our eyes are too important to entrust to a customer service chatbot on an online retail site.

To help patients understand why they should only buy from a verified source and not online, consider sharing “Only Buy Contacts from Eye Care Provider” through an email newsletter or on social media.

This is an ideal time to reach out to patients who may be ready to reevaluate their contact lenses or glasses.

If you have an ophthalmology practice or co-manage, this may be the perfect time to reach out to patients who are considering other options besides contact lenses. If you are set up for telemedicine, consider offering free virtual consults to determine if patients are good candidates for refractive surgery. You might also host a group webinar or Facebook event to reach more prospective patients. Whether the solution is a different contact lens material, new glasses or refractive surgery, be proactive in addressing patient concerns and questions and guiding them to the best option for their needs right now. This is a great way to stay visible and motivate patients to schedule appointments so that you have a full schedule when normal business operations resume. 

Focus your patient communications and marketing on what you can provide that online retailers can’t. Many patients—especially millennials—would prefer to support a locally owned small business rather than a multinational corporation, now more than ever. Providing excellent customer service, educating patients, and forming an ongoing relationship between patients and a trusted eye care provider are all things that can’t be “disrupted” by the latest online retailer.

For more tips on building patient loyalty and sparking interest in your lens options, download our popular eBook, Five Ways to Boost Optical Sales in the Age of Online Retailers today!

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