Online Eyeglasses
By Arthur De Gennaro
Published in the June 15, 2009 issue of Ophthalmology Times

Those of you who are familiar with the strategic planning process are familiar with a
technique known as a SWOT analysis.  The letters S.W.O.T. stand for Strengths,
Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.  In this article I’d like to talk about Threats, one
threat in particular.  That threat is an emerging trend toward the purchase of eyeglasses
online.  Perhaps fueled by the recession, the level of interest seems to have grown over the
past few months.

How Significant is the Treat?
When asked, ophthalmic administrators, who are still reeling from the loss of their contact
lens businesses to Internet e-tailers, estimated that from 3 – 15 out of a 1,000 patients are
shopping online.  Administrators however appear convinced that the trend will continue
to grow.  They are therefore appropriately taking action against the threat; putting policies
in place to minimize the effect on their practices.

Some Food for Thought
Before reacting to this threat consider a few things:

  • The trend is not widespread…yet.  3 -15 patients out of 1,000 is many.  In most
    dispensing ophthalmology practices it amounts to less than 2 patients per month.
  • You may not have been capturing those patients anyway.  There is no guarantee
    that those patients who wish to purchase online weren’t shopping elsewhere before.  
  • Eyeglasses are not contact lenses.  A particular manufacturer’s contact lens is the
    same regardless of where it is purchased.  Not so with eyeglasses.  Eyeglasses will
    always be a custom made product.  Purchasing eyeglasses then is not like buying
    books.  This should mitigate the growth of the trend.
  • Don’t overreact.  Even if the trend were to take hold, not everyone will choose to
    purchase eyeglasses online; consider that lots of contact lenses are still purchased from
    doctors’ offices.  Putting up signage or sending out mass mailings announcing your
    policy on e-tailing will only alert patients that there is a new way to purchase

Decide How Your Practice Will React
Patients are instructed by Internet retailers to ask for their PD, bifocal height
measurement and frame information.  By asking for this information patients alert a
practice of their intent.  Decide if your practice will release this information and/or if it
will charge to do so.  Next, decide how you will react if a patient brings in a pair of
eyeglasses they purchased online and complains.  What will you do if the prescription has
not been filled correctly or the eyeglasses are flawed in some way?

One way administrators are reacting is by asking patients they suspect of e-tailing to sign
a statement that the practice will not be responsible for eyeglasses purchased elsewhere.  
The patient releases the practice from all liability in order to obtain the measurements.  
Since patients have become used to the notion that their ophthalmologist will remake
eyeglasses at no charge, it is important that they know you will only be responsible for the
prescription itself, not the craftsmanship or materials used to fill it.  This is also an
opportunity to educate patients about differences in the quality of eyeglass lenses, lens
treatment and the quality of craftsmanship used to make them.