Optometrists who also sell eyeglasses out of their practices have long faced competition from other brick-and-mortar stores: large chains like LensCrafters, retail giants like Wal-Mart and even the corner drug store selling readers.
But now they’re facing a new challenge: glasses bought online, and how frequently they need adjustments.
“Competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” said Todd Fleischer, the executive director of the Kansas Optometric Association. “But it is affecting the traditional model and how they do business.”
According to a market research report by IBISWorld, online sales of eyeglasses and contact lenses grew by about 7 percent per year between 2011 and 2016. That pace is expected to slow, but it’s still taking a chunk out of local optometrists’ revenues.
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It’s also forcing them to make tough customer service decisions, Fleischer said. Many optometry practices offer free eyeglass adjustments to their patients, regardless of whether they buy the glasses at the practice.
Online sales are testing those policies.
“That’s something where the doctors have to determine how they handle that,” Fleischer said.
With online sellers advertising prescription eyewear for as low as $7, there’s little risk to consumers in ordering without a try-on.
But Amanda Carr, the optical manager at Hawks, Besler & Rogers Optometry in Overland Park, said those often need a lot of adjustments.
“We have a lot of issues with measurements,” Carr said. “If they’re too tight we can do our best, but there’s really no easy fix for that.”
Still, she and her colleagues will try to fix them at no cost, with one caveat.
“We do have them sign a waiver if there’s any breakage because a lot of times the quality of products is not up to par,” Carr said.
Jason Rogers, an optometrist at Carr’s office, said he and his partners are focused on patients’ overall eye health needs and don’t begrudge them the opportunity to shop elsewhere for their glasses.
There’s no plan yet for them to charge extra for adjustments.
“We have had the philosophy of trying to take care of whatever needs someone has when they come in, whether they purchase them here or elsewhere,” Rogers said. “(But) I know there are offices out there that actually have a fee for that; to look at them or to troubleshoot them if they weren’t purchased there.”
Rogers said his office tries to keep a wide selection of glasses in stock to keep customers from going elsewhere, including online.
Carr said online sales haven’t affected their office as much as others because it’s a “mature practice” with a lot of longtime customers. But her sister is an optician at a practice that has been harder hit by online sales.
Fleischer said online is starting to play into decisions about whether to start up or expand new practices.
“I think it’s definitely a factor in what’s going on in the (business) environment,” Fleischer said. “It’s just like every other business they have to adapt (to the internet). I wouldn’t call it necessarily a game-changer, but it’s something that definitely factors into their decisions.”