The Battle for Consumers: Online Versus Eyecare Professionals

By Grant Larsen

DigitalMarketingIn the past, to have a successful optical business all you had to do was market to your neighbourhood, advertise to local traffic and wait for people to walk into your store. Pick the right location, signage, maybe even a yellow pages ad, and your business would grow for years to come. But the Internet has dramatically expanded your neighbourhood and your competition as well. Online retailers, optical chains and, more recently, manufacturers are selling directly to your consumers, including your long-time patients and/or potential clients. It is possible that you have not noticed these changes but as online retailing grows, you will compete with your suppliers and chains for the attention of consumers. The success and value of your business in the long term will depend on how you use preferred digital tools to stay in touch with clients and attract a steady flow of consumers to maintain your business.

So how do you tap into the digital engine that drives new customers, sustains business and helps you win the battle for eyecare consumers?

1. You Can Sell On-Line

Neutralize online companies by offering convenience and price on select brands, contact lenses, select frame-and-lens packages, and online appointment booking.  Options such as adding e-commerce to your existing site or re-directing customers to an e-commerce partner can be done in less than a week. For online shoppers who currently walk away with fitting instructions or eye exam results, these options can help to capture some of those otherwise-lost sales. In many cases, these same online buyers will call you or visit your store or office for other services over time.

2. Digital New Patient Ads

Not all marketing spending should target or be justified by a “sale”. Per-click ads on Google can be geographically and key-word targeted to focus on your ideal new customer. For less than $100 per month, you can be an Internet marketer with graphic statistics that measure engagement and direct next month’s offer. Digital ads can be a fraction of the cost of direct mail, outdoor ads or even paid online directories, and you can set limits on how much to spend. Seeing your business ads in multiple media sources builds trust, a key element in long-term consumer relationships.

3. Stay in Touch with Email

Addresses and phone numbers often change, but people keep personal email addresses forever. If you haven’t been collecting them from clients, start now. It is still the most common way to interact for most people and easy to manage and scale to your budget. Email templates are available for free online.  You can use images and content from your website, target specific patient groups and promote events, all with minimal graphics experience required. Simple functions like “invite a friend”, “send this offer”, and “enter to win” create client connections that super-charge your community referrals.

4. Reasons to See You

Offering the same brands as online retailers or standard discounts is not going to convince local buyers to rush into your store. Online shopping is intuitively cheaper and more convenient for most consumers. The latest styles, detailed frame/lens options, private rooms, medical services and your optical expertise are just some of the valuable reasons to see you in person. The online deal of the day or “Combo 4” can’t match your personal invitation. Telephone recalls, VIP events, email offers, social media, community events and websites should all drive patients and consumers back to your store.

The value of your business is not what you sell, where you sell or how you sell. The value of your business is the strength of your customer relationships. By adopting some digital skills, you can connect with more clients, communicate better information and consistently use multiple digital sources to give them what they want. In many cases these digital tools save you significant time and money, since you are targeting your ideal customers in your specific community.