What do Online Consumers Want?

By Grant Larsen

DigitalMarketingThe eyecare industry in North America is abuzz with news of Essilor’s acquisition of online retailer Coastal Contacts. Clearly, Essilor’s new business model includes giving a growing number of Canadian consumers exactly what they’re looking for. The eyecare industry has shown almost no dollar growth in recent years, yet Internet sales are growing at a double-digit rate.

Those who have been in the business for some time or keep statistics on how many store visitors actually make purchases may have noticed that more and more people are leaving your store with the intention of buying online. In retail, they are referred to as “showroomers” and research estimates that they make up as much as 20 per cent of all consumers. They browse for frames, take pictures, get quotes on contacts lenses, browse websites on their smartphones or simply walk out the door with their Rx or fitting instructions in hand. Whether you’re an independent eyecare professional, a chain or a big box retailer, this shift in consumer buying habits impacts all bricks-and-mortar stores.

What do showrooming online shoppers want?

• Information

All consumers and especially showroomers love to compare products. Make sure you and your staff know two or three key benefits with supporting facts for each product. If you give shoppers more than this, they will become confused or simply forget. If they want more information, you can direct them to your website, attach quick links (QR codes) to products, or provide in-store marketing materials. Insist that sales representatives and suppliers provide information that meets your selling needs.

• Hands-on Experience

People are in your store to buy but if you don’t give them personal information, as well as valuable and timely facts, they will quickly turn to electronic devices or buy online. Getting consumers to try on frames, play with displays, watch videos, feel lenses, and discover technology not only improves their in-store experience, it accelerates their decision to buy in store at that moment.

• Electronic Engagement

For high-traffic locations, consider offering in-store Wi-Fi and increase the frequency of specials for smartphone shoppers. Use your website landing page to drive online shoppers to your store with promotions. Change them at least monthly, ideally every week. By stressing the urgency of the offers, you encourage showroomers to buy. Video displays and camera fitting tools such as Essilor’s m’eyeFit and Optikam Tech’s Optikam Pad may not close the deal, but they augment reality and visually deliver benefits that speak to showroomers. Many suppliers have video resources that can be easily adapted for your social media, Internet and in-store promotional needs.

• Choice

Nobody wants to be the optical industry’s online equivalent of an annoying digital popup. Showroomers and most consumers want to pick and choose how they interact with retailers and healthcare service providers. They want to choose when, where and how much product and service information they receive. Professionals can provide information regularly through emails, engage in social media, publish great monthly newsletters and have disciplined referral and recall programs. With respectful frequency, personalized information and opt-out capabilities, today’s consumer will remain loyal and the growing showroomer segment can be captured for years to come.

Most business strategists will say that consumers decide when it’s time to change your business model. I’m not suggesting that anyone close their doors and open an online business. But the message that industry-leading companies like Essilor and the growing number of Internet consumers are sending simply can’t be ignored. Consumers want to buy products in a different way, on their terms and with information and tools that most bricks-and-mortar retailers are fully capable of providing. By implementing just some of these digital tools and retail techniques, a business model can include showroomers and new consumers in the future.