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For eye care professionals

The state of the competition for independent ECPs

The current competition and what you can do to stay competitive

Nothing stays the same for long nowadays. The pace of change seems to be speeding up relentlessly, and that applies to the optics industry too. Over the last 30+ years, deregulation of supply of spectacles, a shift in the number of chains in the market, and online contact lens sales have all combined to transform the competition faced by the independent eye care practitioner (ECP). It hasn’t stopped there, either. This last decade has seen a total transformation in the way we get healthcare information - handheld mobile devices provide a quick and effortless way to access the internet and gather information on almost any topic. 

The democratisation of information presents more than one type of challenge to the ECP: you can be faced by patients debating your clinical knowledge or shopping around for specs or lenses within seconds via their mobile. Add in up-and-coming technologies like online self-care apps and ‘test your own vision’ apps there’s no wonder that many independent ECPs feel under pressure to change the way they operate, without being sure of what direction to follow. At Essilor, we’ve made it our mission to help independent ECPs to grow in this complicated digital age. So, read on to find out more about current competition for independent ECPs, and what you can do about it to stay competitive. 

Optical industry changes

If you are part of the generation who started in optics in the 70s or 80s, you will have seen all this change take place. If you’ve started practising more recently you may not recall a time when the optical industry was less crowded. Back in the days when there were fewer training establishments for ECPs, when supermarkets had yet to open up optical practices, patients were less informed too. Shopping around involved walking from practice to practice with a prescription, and having a conversation with a member of staff. This ensured that patients always got advice alongside a new pair of specs. It also gave the practitioner a chance to build trust and develop a relationship, something that is missing if the person is simply comparing prices for frames and lenses online. 

In the past, people were dependent on specialist advice from an opticians they trusted. Patients stuck with one practice and returned on a regular basis, with far less risk of them shopping around. Sadly, this is no longer automatically the case. From the advent of the supermarket dispensary, the availability of ready readers in many stores, and online frame and lens sales, patients now have many ways to obtain spectacles. 

However, this doesn’t have to spell doom and gloom for the independent ECP with a bricks and mortar practice. Adapting to the challenges created by high-street chains and supermarkets is easier said than done, so that’s why we’re here to help through our Optical Industry Advice.

Understanding the competition’s failings

Have you looked in the App Store recently for eyecare and eyewear related apps? It can be illuminating to check this out: if you have never considered an app as competition then definitely do this. Free to use self-care apps and measuring tools developed by online spectacle sellers mean people are less likely to go to an opticians. Why? Convenience. 

We don’t need to tell you that this can have grave consequences both for the person’s eye health and your bottom line. Missing out on a routine eye examination because the person feels that the app has dealt with their needs to an adequate degree removes the chance for a dialogue about eyecare and eyewear best practices. Not only is there no place to explain the vital role of the health check within the eye examination, you also miss out on the chance to discuss spectacles, contact lenses, sunglasses, and the diverse ways an optical appliance can enhance people’s lives. 

Similarly, try searching the internet for “online eye test”. While some providers may be clear than an online test doesn’t replace the need for a full eye examination, consumers may well skip over any warnings. The ready accessibility of a plethora of information online is affecting the way patients approach an optician’s practice. There is a risk that some will not attend at all, while others will attend with partial information that holds considerable value in their minds because they discovered it on the internet. As such, few consumers are well-equipped to assess the validity of online information. 

What you can do

It can be a very difficult thing to change consumer mindset, especially when convenience comes into play. However, this is the position independent ECPs face at the moment. All's not lost, though. Rather, this presents a very real and exciting opportunity for the independents out there up and down the country. What is it that the modern consumer enjoys more than a convenient service? Simple, a satisfying customer experience. This is where independent ECPs can really make the difference and step ahead of the game. From knowledgeable and insightful staff that aren’t sales-y but genuinely helpful, to a modern and digitised eye exam experience, there are plenty of opportunities where independent ECPs can adapt to meet the desires of the modern consumer. This is what our Bespoke service aims to help you do: thrive in a crowded market place. 

Independent opticians still have a lot to offer, but you need to put in the work to stay competitive. Nowadays, potential customers are looking for added value and personal relationships; that perfect experience. Consider how your practice offers these, and you will be well placed to stay on top of the competition. Discover Bespoke today to see how it can work for you.


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