Bricks & Clicks

Follow these 4 steps to balance your brick-and-mortar retailing with your online retailing.

When Warby Parker launched in 2010, some independent eyecare providers assumed the worst was about to happen. They assumed their bricks-and-mortar optical shop was about to face a life-threatening challenge.

Online sales do pose a challenge to independent practices, but it turns out patients still want an in-person experience to try on frames and make their purchase. This is evidenced by Warby Parker’s introduction of bricks-and-mortar stores to complement its online offerings. We use an online store to get patients’ attention, show them what we have to offer, and then, more often than not, capture the sale in person.

Our approach has resulted in an eyewear capture rate that I describe as being over 100 percent, with many patients not only making a purchase after receiving a prescription from us, but making multiple purchases, and many others coming to us to buy glasses based on prescriptions written in other practices. Here is how we do it

  1. Help Patients Browse to Taste What’s In Your Office
    My practice, Metro Optics Eyewear, which has five New York locations, four in The Bronx, and one in Harsdale, Westchester County, has a virtual try-on feature on the practice website’s online store, along with a filtering system that lets people input their preferred frame type, price range, and color. We are careful in what we offer in the online selection because we want to avoid having a patient show up in one of our in-person opticals and find that we don’t have what they found online.
A filtering system lets shoppers input their preferred frame type, price range, and color.
This frame was one of the products selected based on “Women’s Frames,” “All” for price, and multiple colors selected.
The virtual try-on lets the shopper see an approximation of what the frames would look like to wear.

2. Wow Them When They Show Up In Person
I liken the typical shopper to a horse that’s given myriad options of where to live but consistently chooses to return to their already familiar and comfortable barn.

During the height of the pandemic, we had patients calling us to ask if they could come in person to shop for eyewear and make a purchase. Even after being directed to our online store, their preference was to have the in-person experience. Patients who have spent time in our online shop and have made a selection based on our filtering and virtual try-on system, will often get blown away by the vast selection in our in-person optical and will put aside the choices they came in with. When they see how much more we have available in our in-person stores (one of which is 5,100 sq. ft.) and how good, and often different, everything looks in person, they want to browse from scratch and start the try-on process for real.

3. Maximize In-Person Expertise and Consultation
One problem of most online stores is the patient doesn’t have the benefit of an expert’s guiding hand. The patient may select frames that are incompatible with their prescription, such as the high myope who chooses a frame that will not attractively support a high-index lens. There also are ways skilled opticians have of conversing with a patient to drill down to the best options for that person. An advanced online store with interactive chat capabilities, and with staff available at all hours to engage in that chat, would provide the ability for that kind of virtual interaction. However, few, if any, online optical stores currently have that capability.

When the patient is in our in-person store, one of our opticians told me she asks three key questions:

  1. Do you have any allergies? Some patients have an allergy to the nickel that is in some frames, and, therefore, need titanium frames instead.
  2. Do you like having nose pads? The presence or absence of nose pads is a frequent complaint of patients.
  3. Do you like the glasses you currently are wearing? Is there anything about those glasses that you wish was different? This will let the optician know how the patient will judge whether they like their new glasses and will let the optician fully understand the goals of the patient’s purchase.

4. Offer Something Patients Can’t Find Anywhere Else
We are in the process of revamping our online store to offer only our own branded line of frames to virtual shoppers. Younger shoppers have shown less of an inclination toward big-brand names and are more drawn to something unique and personalized. Our branded line of frames will feature products they can only get from us. The online shopper, who usually is exploring their options with an eye toward browsing more deeply in person, may be drawn to our unique products. Once in our in-person store, they will have the option of one of our branded frames or one of the many frames from recognizable brands that we will continue to offer.

An online store at its best serves as a significant traffic driver into your stores. It lets the patient searching online for an optical shop near them know that you are there, and it gives a sense of what you have to offer. The real opportunity to capture the sale usually happens when that shopper, whose appetite has been whet from the virtual store, shows up in person and finds expertise and products they can’t say no to.

John Bonizio is the owner of Metro Optics, a five-location practice in The Bronx and Westchester County that offers comprehensive eye care in addition to optical shops in each location.

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