The Battle to Understand the Sexes

There are differences in lens preferences between
men and women – but successful dispensing involves
more than being gender-centric.

By Brian P. Dunleavy

Gisele Klein, optician and owner of Impressive Eyewear in Surrey, B.C., remembers when a male patient came into her shop with a specific frame brand and lens budget in mind – and that he almost walked out when she advised him to change.

“I said, ‘Give me a chance,’” she recalls. “We put him in a completely different frame, and when I explained to him the technology behind the best lens for him, he said, ‘Yeah. Done.’ He came in with a budget of $500 or $600 and left spending $1,500.”

Klein, who has been an optician for almost 30 years, has noticed a marked change in the way men shop for eyewear products – both frames and spectacle lenses—in recent years. Historically, for example, male patients have tended to be more price-conscious than women when it comes to spectacle lens purchases. Now, though, opticians such as Klein have found men who come into their shops or optical departments to be more willing to explore new frame and lens options. Before asking about price, she says, men are asking about specific lens designs for their work and leisure-time activities.

“If they know they have choices, men are much more willing now to get out of their comfort zone,” Klein explains.

Although men are becoming less price-conscious, they still want spectacle lenses that are low maintenance – and that they won’t have to replace in a few months because of scratching. “Men want lenses that are more durable, more scratch-proof, whereas women will ask for thinner lenses, or inquire about what hue an A-R coating might cast,” says Alan R. Boyco, OD, owner of Image Optometry, a 14-location chain of optometry clinics in B.C. In general, though, any gender differences in lens preferences simply serve as a reminder of three core concepts in spectacle dispensing:

1. Be prepared, but don’t pre-judge.

Madelaine Petrin, R.O., B.Sc., professor of opticianry at Seneca College in Toronto, discusses gender differences with her students, but she also advises them to be sure to listen to individual clients. “It is smart to listen to what matters to the client,” she notes. That said, even though she acknowledges that assessing clients based on gender is “stereotypical and simplistic,” it can often be the quickest way to read them. “Sales are done in a short time and it pays to understand what the client thinks is relevant,” Petrin explains.

2. Assess patient personality.

To that end, Klein says she tries to go beyond gender stereotypes and read the personalities of individual patients. As a new business owner, she has been taking management classes, and has learned a system for colour-coding personality types. “Blue” personalities, for example, tend to be more caring and sincere, while “red” personalities wield power and rely on logic. “When selling to different personalities you should try to take on some of those same traits,” Klein explains. In other words, talk technology to “reds” and focus on cosmetics with “blues.”

3. Be timely with your tech talk.

As impressive and important as the latest and greatest lens technology is, not every patient is interested in it. No matter the gender or personality of the patient, opticians and optical staff need to be knowledgeable enough to answer the toughest questions of the tech-savvy, and astute enough to observe when a patient is overwhelmed or bored by discussion of the science behind lenses. With that in mind, Petrin believes all optical shops should have a diverse staff. Male opticians, she says, are generally more comfortable explaining the technology than their female counterparts, who prefer the cosmetic side. She says, “I love the way some male opticians will explain in great detail how digital lenses work – to other males who are equally interested, like guys looking under the hood of a car.”