The Internet, like other technology innovations is a double-edged sword. The use and implementation can make it either a blessing or a curse. As consumers become used to the convenience and perceived price saving associated with online shopping, it is only natural that eyeglasses are becoming an online commodity as well. The emergence of online eyeglass retailers is typically perceived as a threat by independent ECPs, as these take away business. Huge price differences (up to 90%) make it an irresistible offer, and the local independent ECP finds it very hard to compete with online prices.
Online Dispensing – Risks and Opportunity
Making “blessing” out of online eyewear dispensing is a challenging process involving interaction with patients on the single eye care practice level, changing practices and involvement of the all eye care professional community with the regulatory procedures.
A regulatory challenge
Eyewear is not a commodity. It is a medical treatment and the product interacts with the patient’s body. Quality standards and professional supervision must be imposed through certification and education of the public.
A Threat to Local Independent ECPs
Facing what initially seamed as very low online prices, eye care practitioners need much air to explain the difference. Yes, the rent, the attendants, the personal adaptation by the optician… These all have a cost, and there’s a difference in the eyeglasses, too. Still, online dispensing has been taking away local ECP business.
Associated Risks to Patients
Eye care professionals know the difference. The basic rule of life “You Get What You Pay For” is very true here as well. The Internet does not create low prices. It connects people across the globe, making information accessible to all. This includes propositions from merchants who lower prices by slashing down the costs. You all know what it costs to assemble a reasonable pair of glasses. Even with volume discounts it is impossible to make decent eyewear sold at 8.99. So what’s the trick? The materials.
Cheap lenses are made from materials with poor optical properties, such as distortions and other surface inconsistencies, which affect the optical performance. The ordinary person is not equipped to validate the prescription, PD, Axis which can cause wide variety of discomforts and eye health problems.
Frames made of cheap materials don’t last long. Usage of recycled low quality soft metals or low quality plastic injection molds, can develop grin deposits in the points where it contacts the skin. Usage of very low quality copper alloys, the frame material might contain materials that causing not only nuisance such as allergy (due to high content of nickel ) but also being a health hazard by causing major skin irritation or chronic poisoning (happens with lead based pigments and coatings).
The Bright Side – It is an Opportunity for Everyone
It is very easy for every independent ECP today to offer eyewear online, reaching shoppers nationwide.
The Internet has opened the opportunity not only to cheap merchants. It facilitates business for everyone, including eye care practices. If shopping online is an alternative that patients are looking at, let them have it.
After all this expands one’s clientele and generates additional income from those online shoppers … The difference and leverage that a real eye care practice offers over the “cheap stuff” is that you know what you sell, and you stand behind it. Numerous e-commerce services make the technical implementation an inexpensive and realistic venue for every practice.
Benjamin Franklin is credited for inventing the first pair of bifocals in the early 1784. According to the story, “He was getting old and was having trouble seeing both up-close and at a distance. Getting tired of switching between two types of glasses, he devised a way to have both types of lenses fit into the frame. The distance lens was placed at the top and the up-close lens was placed at the bottom.”
There is no doubt in my mind that regulatory or communal action is required to standardize and distinguish between “Safe” and “hazardous” online sources.
Educating the public is eminent. Publicizing factsheets through every practice’s office is a minimum.
Making this right is part of our future. The more independent eye care practitioners joining this trend, the more visible will be the difference between the real O.D servicing his clients remotely and a faceless online merchant. The numbers are also in our favor. Even a modest number of real eye care practitioners selling online will dilute the presence of the cheap merchants on the net and in search engines.
C.E.O K-Mars Optical