It seems like every optical blog, forum, and Facebook group has something to say about online sales of eyewear. Whether it’s complaining about the discounted pricing online, or the large manufacturers’ ownership of online direct-to-consumer sites, everyone has an opinion about how bad this new medium is for optical product sales in our industry. But is it?
In my 24 years in this industry, I’ve been told that many innovations will be the death of my career, and my opticals. These included: overnight contact lens wear (both the late 80’s version and today), the rise of the ‘big box’ stores, BOGO, 1-hour optical service, Lasik, Ortho-K, and even the newer intraocular lens implants that can (if the stars and moon are aligned in the proper position) allow the patient to ‘reduce their need for eyewear’ after surgery.
Yet we are still here. So my attitude toward online sales, after all of these other ‘Chicken Little’ moments in the industry, is not one of panic, but more a pondering of exactly how I can turn this latest competitor to my business, and my clients’ businesses, into an advantage.
Do you have a website? If the answer is no, then my question is why not? The internet is the new Yellow Pages. If you are not actively pursuing a social media campaign, including website, social site fan page, and online forms of advertisement (Groupon, for instance), then you will be left behind within the next few years.
Think about it—if you want to know about a product, how often do you, personally, reach for the phone book anymore, versus opening up your browser? So, what makes you think your prospective customer is suddenly overcome with the urge to dig out the phone book when it is time for new eyewear?
Having an online presence is smart for many reasons: your new potential 20-something year old client is going to find you online, first. In some cases, and with the right help, you can actually end up showing up first in searches on various servers, which we all know equates to more phone calls and inquiries.
Set up a plan for your site and find a social media company that can lead you on the correct path to gaining the most exposure for your business. Other than the cost of hiring this person, the internet is still free. This means that, once you are up and running, there is no cost involved in reaching across the virtual world to anyone you want.
Ask your social media consultant to show you samples of their other work, and then to sit down with you and sketch out a rough draft, on paper, of what your site will need. Do you want to offer online sales yourself? This can involve substantial cost, but some believe in a ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ approach to combating online sales. Alternatively, you can offer ‘teasers’ on your site. Discuss with your website designer how much it will cost to offer a gallery of your products, with changes on a quarterly basis. You would want to update the site with new products at least that often, just like you would want to rearrange the product in your store every three months, to keep it looking fresh. As a side benefit, the more your site changes, the higher you will rise in some search engine rankings. That means you may show up higher on the search list of your potential clients.
Be sure you check with manufacturers about their rules regarding online promotion. Most don’t have any issues with you presenting their products via the web, but many, especially those who target couture or high-end clients, don’t want you actually selling their products online.
You know now why you need an online presence, and how to begin to get your name out there. Next month, I will discuss how to directly compete against the “big boys” of the online optical world, with little or no monetary investment on your part.