Meeting the .com Challenge
BY PALMER R. COOK, OD
Everyone knows Chicken Little who shouted, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling." Have you heard of the farmer with the same initials? C.L., a hard-working realist, grows apples. His apples are hand picked to meet the exacting needs of his customers.
A year or so ago Horace the Bull was wandering along the road by the orchard. Horace found a few apples at the bottom of the orchard hill. They had rolled off C.L.'s property, so Horace gathered them up. He found he could sell them, bruised as they were, if he sold them cheaply. He ran ads for cheap apples and mailed apples to people who called. He found if he bellowed and stamped around the orchard fence, more apples would fall and roll down the hill onto the road.
At first C.L. thought, "It's only a few apples," and, "My customers have exacting needs and won't buy inferior apples," and, "Apples from me are fresh picked. Who would pay shipping costs and wait for the apples?"
One day C.L. was out in the orchard. Horace had been bellowing and stamping all night. Suddenly an apple hit C.L. on the head. It had just dropped off of one of his trees, and it rolled down the hill. C.L. looked up. He could see the sky through the almost bare branches.
C.L. did not shout that the sky was falling. Instead, he built a wooden trough at the bottom of the hill to catch those rolling apples. He hired an apple marketing specialist. He kept meeting the needs of customers who wanted fresh picked apples. He sold the dropped apples for less profit, but he knew he was meeting the demands of the market, both fresh picked and the bruised.
What if C.L. was a practitioner, and an apple represented the sale of a contact lens? What if the apple hitting C.L. was a news release announcing that 165,000 new customers had ordered lenses from the Internet in a single three-month period?
Market data shows that many patients will wait for lenses and pay the added shipping costs to get a low "sticker price." You are not precluded from this segment of the market. Establish your own website or join forces with other practitioners.
The complexity, cost, time and volume needed to develop a viable website makes site development less than feasible for most practitioners. 1Contacts.com allows you retain control of the prescription so that only lenses appropriate to the patient's needs will be sold. The program allows you to sell at a competitive price and still make a profit. The company also offers the option of having your own website.
The Big Challenge
Patients need to know about the cost, risks and convenience online services may offer. They also need to know which site you recommend. They will know only if you tell them. You may choose to tell all your patients that you offer online ordering, or identify only those most likely to order.
Your newsletter, reception signs, brochures, marketing tools and chairside counseling play an important role in this educational process. Careful instruction of your staff is also a key element in making the .com option work for your practice. No matter how you handle it, online lens ordering is a big challenge that you must meet.
The most important tools for educating and guiding your patients about .com contact lens purchasing are what you say during your chairside counseling and what your staff says to patients. What you and your staff say (in person and on the phone) has more impact than any conventional marketing activity.
Horace and C.L.
What about Horace the Bull and C.L.? C.L. is doing nicely. All of Horace's bellowing has called attention to the advantages of apples, so more people have added apples to their diets. C.L. now suggests a new Red-Gold-Perfect (RGP) apple that is easier to clean, has a crisper flavor and will not fall off the tree. RGP apples must be carefully hand picked, but once his customers try these new apples, they love them. C.L. suggests them to all his apple-loving, price-conscious customers.
Horace, on the other hand, finds that even though he is a big bull, he must bellow (and advertise) more than ever. His media and legal expenses have soared. He worries that other orchards will take action just like C.L.
Most important of all, apple consumers can still get the apples they need with good service and quality-of-care options.
1-800 Contacts reported strong increases in sales in third quarter. The company reported they had added 165,000 new customers during the quarter. Did any of those new customers formerly purchase their contact lenses from your practice?
1Contacts.com, a joint venture of ABB Optical, C & E Distributing and Diversified Ophthalmics, gives practitioners nationwide ways of participating in the .com contact lens market. 1Contacts.com will not make contact lenses available to patients without permission of the prescribing practitioner.
Dr. Cook has served as a clinical instructor at both OSU and UH. He currently is the director of the Practice Support Division of Diversified Ophthalmics, Inc.