The Great Online Shopping Debate: Chapter 3

RUTU MODAN via Paul Gravet

Like you, I read all sort of comments and complaints about eyewear e-commerce and how it is ruining life as we know it. Of course, if one listens hard enough, you will hear the echoes of industries current and long abandoned as to how technology has ruined life as we knew it. So here I am once again musing about online shopping, yet making a distinction I believe needs to be expressed to your patients/customers when facing this issue.

Let’s face it, all the complaining, gnashing of teeth, and name calling is not going to make e-commerce go away. Amazon had over $17 billion in sales in the 3rd quarter this year, an increase of 24% over 2012. Personally, I spend a lot of money shopping online. I have purchased, movies, music, hard drives, laptops, tablets, RAM, TV’s, DVD players, monitors, auto parts, sweat shirts, baby clothes, Blu-ray players, books, phones, printing, vitamins, toys, programs, software, flights, and hotels online.

I have spent many thousands of dollars online, mostly buying one size fits all products. Iron Man 3 in Blu-Ray is the same thing from Amazon as it is from Target. An iPad from the apple store across the street is no different than the one Apple would ship me from Cupertino. The airline seat I might buy from Expedia is no different than the one I might buy directly from Southwest or United.

How many of you bought a home without ever walking through it or a car without ever driving it? How many brides do you think purchase their wedding gowns with a drop down menu online? While there is undoubtedly a large market for purchasing anything online, there are certain things you want to try on to be sure. As much as I have spent online, I have never purchased a pair of shoes for myself; even though I know I could buy from sites such as Zappos with 100% no questions asked returned policy. I want to try them on and see how they feel before I spend my hard earned money on them. Zappos will sell over $2 billion is shoes this year, most of it at full retail. As important as I value my tootsies, which is more important, how well my shoes fit or how well I see?

As an industry, are we focusing (pardon the pun) on the wrong part of e-commerce, the price, instead of the quality? We can debate all day long the value of a $100 frame versus a $300 frame. For some people the $100 frame is still expensive. The one thing I think we miss in the debate is the quality of the lenses put in the online eyewear as well as the precise custom measurements in PD and seg height we as optical professionals provide.

I recently called one of the more fashionable online retailers looking to purchase one of their frames. I asked how much they would sell that frame without a prescription lens as I wanted something they didn’t sell. They offered me a 10% discount. HUGE MISTAKE on their part. They told me their lenses are worth $9.50 (at retail). They now planted a seed of doubt in the quality of their lenses that a good optician should be able to work with in selling quality lenses and coatings.

Except for the snow this time of year, I can go always barefoot. I can’t as easily go without eyewear. Having experienced firsthand the difference between generic lenses and quality progressive lenses, I will never go back. Don’t your patients and customers deserve to see just as well?

Daniel Feldman, is a co-founder to the Visionaries Group, an optical consulting firm specializing in helping eye care practices achieve success at or on Facebook.