Article Date: 4/1/2006

contact lens economics
Patients Buying Elsewhere? Ask Why and Where
BY GARY GERBER, OD

There are lots of places your patients can buy contact lenses. You already know that. You know that patients can shop for their contact lenses on the Internet and in big box warehouses. And if you're like me, you believe it won't be long before contact lenses are available in gas stations and bathroom vending machines. With all these diversified sources, if you're attempting to keep contact lens patients from purchasing lenses elsewhere, you first have to know where they're going.

Retaining Patients

There are different strategies for patients who buy contact lenses online and patients who buy from big box stores. For example, most Internet shoppers go online for two reasons — convenience and at times, to attempt to avoid having an eye examination. Buying lenses from a disinterested third party who won't raise the issue of, "You know, we'd love to fill your order but you haven't had an eye exam in a long time," is comforting to non-confrontational patients. Contrast this with big box shoppers who are probably buying lenses for lower price and convenience — but a different type of convenience than that of Internet shoppers. Because patients are already in the store buying something else, it's easy to make an impulse buy of more lenses — especially if the price is right. As for ducking an eye exam — it might not be as easy because the big box store might have a practitioner on site. Different sources for lenses mean different motivations that drive the sale.

How Can You Compete?

Knowledge is power, not just in clinical skills, but in marketing warfare. You can't effectively compete if you don't know where your patients are drifting. You may think they're buying contact lenses online when in fact they're buying them from an eyecare practitioner at the shopping mall. Trying to entice this patient by offering lower pricing would be foolhardy, expensive and most importantly, unproductive.

Do your own market research to find your real competitors by asking current patients. Design a survey and include questions such as, "If you hadn't bought your contact lenses from us, where would you have gone? Why?"

Don't be afraid to survey patients whom you're positive bought contact lenses from an alternate source. Ask them exactly where and why they chose the alternate. We've had clients discover that the Internet provider many patients were using was more expensive than what the doctor's own Web site offered! We carefully teased out those responses and marketed directly to those patients based on their exact responses. For example, a patient said, "I buy my contact lenses from XYZlenz.com and I do it because they offer free shipping — and you don't."

We e-mailed the patient a truthful price comparison chart that showed the price he was paying and how much he would save if he bought lenses from the practitioner. We included a link to the client's Web ordering page.

Of course, had we assumed that this patient was getting his lenses from another source, such as another practitioner, the message we sent would have been inaccurate and ineffective.

Strategic Marketing

Strategic patient-specific research can be a valuable learning tool — and patient retention tool. Find out what your patients really think and uncover their shopping patterns and attitudes by asking. Then, as much as possible, tailor your offerings to match their already-established buying patterns. This type of marketing plan is straightforward and logical — and it works.

Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice – a company offering consulting, seminars and software solutions for optometrists. You can reach him at (800) 867-9303 or DrGerber@PowerPractice.com.



Contact Lens Spectrum, Issue: April 2006