Keeping Up—and Winning—at the New Game of Retail

Shopping models have changed.

By Shaun Schooley

In the blink of an eye. That is how fast the retail landscape is evolving these days. Today’s tech-savvy and socially assertive consumers are smarter, faster and stronger than ever before. And when it comes to their shopping experiences, they’re not only demanding more, but expecting it too.

The new landscape of business is defined by an Omni-channel approach to retailing, which includes developing a seamless connection to the consumer experience through all types of shopping channels. Physical stores, smartphones, tablets, social media apps, websites, and delivery to the home all offer a path to engaging with today’s buyer.

This new crossover approach is critical to eye care providers. Traditionally, customers would visit a doctor to have an eye examination and receive their corresponding prescriptions. In turn, it was assumed that the patient would select his or her lenses and frames there, too.

NEW SHOPPING MODELS

With the emergence of new shopping models, the game has changed for everyone in the eye care industry. Take Warby Parker, whose business model allows the company to sell frames for as little as $95—significantly less than what a consumer pays in an optical shop. And the price includes prescription lenses, shipping and a donation to a non-profit organization. As you would expect, there are already companies—such as EyeFly, Made Eyewear, and Jimmy Fairly—trying to replicate Warby’s model in the industry, not to mention other retail markets like mattresses and men’s shoes making their play. But the true lesson in Warby Parker’s game-changing model is how it embraces today’s new consumer.

If you are not competing in the battle for customer expectations and experiences, you may need to adjust your strategy. Thanks to the ever-expanding role of mobile devices, consumers have an endless array of options at their fingertips—which they can and will turn to 24/7. And when you add in the growing viability of social networking, advanced technology platforms, and killer loyalty programs, today’s consumer is becoming a highly educated, reward-seeking shopping ninja.

Spin through the traditional eye care market model, and you will find that the majority of all sales (lenses, frames, etc.) happen at the time of the eye exam. The high close rate is driven primarily by the consumers’ ability to use their insurance. After that, the remaining purchases—up to 40% of the follow-on spending—are up for grabs. This is where the game continues to evolve for the $100 billion optical industry.1

HERE’S THE PROOF

According to Walker Sands’ “2015 Future of Retail Study,” 68% of consumers say they shop online at least once per month. The enticements to find what they need on the web are many, including 83% citing free shipping and 65% lauding free returns as major factors—points that should get the attention of today’s optometrist.2

Further proof lies in a report by Forrester, predicting that by 2016, the web will influence more than half of all retail transactions, representing a potential sales opportunity of almost $2 trillion.3

This retail battle for consumers’ discretionary income is just getting started. There are major players working hard to fundamentally change the way consumers buy. Amazon—today’s gold standard for online retail—continues to offer more and unique ways to buy. Earlier this year, it opened its first brick and mortar store in Manhattan, announcing plans for additional locations in other major metros. To augment ordering convenience, Amazon also recently introduced the “Dash” button. The Wi-Fi-enabled device has a single button and the branding of the related product. A push of the button initiates a reorder for a variety of frequently used products and brands, including Glad trash bags, Tide laundry detergent, Wellness dog food, and Smartwater bottled water.

WHAT ARE GOOGLE AND FACEBOOK DOING?

Not to be outdone, Google and Facebook are discussing online shopping programs that will take the concept of online buying and research to a whole new level. In its attempt to challenge the dominance of Amazon, Google is toying with a “buy now” style button that would enable consumers to search for products and purchase them with one click.

And if anybody knows how to interact with today’s consumer, it is Facebook. Talks from the social media giant’s camp are centering on a new online approach to shopping called “Business on Messenger.” The process enables consumers to opt in to the program when checking out with a purchase, turning the shopping experience into a Facebook Messenger conversation with the business. Merchants can use the app to promptly send a receipt, and message again when the item is shipped, with tracking information and all. This “chat” with a personal shopper concept is where the retail world is heading—and fast.

GET IN THE CONSUMER’S MIND

In what remains one of retail’s most traditional outposts, eye care providers must learn to embrace how today’s consumer is thinking and acting like never before. One of the key takeaways for eye care providers is to understand the “box on every doorstep” world we live in and how their businesses fit in.

Make no mistake about it—this is a daily battle. With advancements in technology driving constant change in buying options, engagement with customers across every retail channel is critical and, eventually will serve as the barometer on which a business will be measured. There are programs out there that eye care physicians can use to step into the game. LensFerry, a new mobile ordering capability, integrates with practitioners’ practice management tools to offer consumers the ability to buy contact lenses via text message. Using the OD’s preverified prescriptions, consumers are able to place orders 24/7 and receive direct delivery of contact lenses from their provider. When it is time to reorder, patients will receive a text message reminding them, and can purchase with a simple response text. The seamless experience between the storefront and their device further increases patient engagement with the eye care provider and ultimately improves patient retention.

Perhaps the most practical advice comes from Eric Singleton, executive vice president and chief information officer for Chico’s FAS, who was instrumental in pulling together the Omni-channel strategy for the company. (Chico’s operates more than 600 boutiques and over 100 outlets across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, publishes a monthly catalog, and offers 24/7 online shopping.) Mr. Singleton encourages retailers to recognize how their customers’ buying habits differ from when they are in their own home versus when they are in the store. The key: Be available as a brand for your customers whenever and wherever they’re thinking about you at any given moment. If you do that, rates of interaction and purchasing will rise tremendously.

CONCLUSION

In the end, today’s newest marketing salvo holds true—consumers buy from people and brands they like and trust. Giving them a myriad of options to buy your products and services is today’s magic bullet.

It’s a move you must start making now. n

1. An action-oriented analysis of the State of the Optometric Profession: 2013. AOA Excel and Jobson Medical Information. www.reviewob.com/Data/Sites/1/soop_070120134.pdf

2. WalkerSands Communications. Reinventing retail: what businesses need to know for 2015 whitepaper. http://www.walkersands.com/futureofretail. Accessed July 8, 2015.

3. Mulpuru S. U.S. Cross-Channel Retail Forecast, 2011 to 2016. Forrester. https://www.forrester.com/us+crosschannel+retail+forecast+2011+to+2016/fulltext/-/e-res76281. Accessed July 8, 2015.

Shaun Schooley
• Vice President, Global Marketing Technology at CooperVision
• Head of WebSystem3, responsible for leading EyeCare Prime and LensFerry, as well as app and tool technology development for eye care practices
sschooley@coopervision.com