By Seth J. Bookey
Most people who try polarized sunwear lenses love them and can see the difference in their vision when compared to plain tinted ophthalmic lenses. Yet polarized prescription lenses remain a mere niche in the sunwear market. A leading reason: Optometrists often are reluctant to push a higher-priced product–a product that often sells itself when benefits are demonstrated properly to patients.
Success in selling more polarized prescription sunwear, according to eye care professionals and manufacturers, comes from following three basics: Talk about sunwear and polarization; present the benefits in terms of comfort and performance; and then demonstrate the distinct advantages of polarized prescription lenses.
Lens manufacturers help ODs in a variety of ways to sell polarized prescription lenses to an underserved need in that population.
Along with the usual counter cards, brochures and patient reception-area videos, lens manufacturers also give seminars to ECPs throughout the year, emphasizing the need to make sunwear important to patients, to make it a part of the total vision care package–to make it as important as the patients’ single-vision or progressive eyewear. Polarized prescription lenses also come in more lens designs than ever before, featuring scratch-resistance and a wide variety of progressive lens designs, and a variety of colors.
Eye doctors and techs refract patients and recommend primary lenses but often don’t mention sunwear. “Sunwear is not secondary or optional or a luxury or seasonal,” says Erin Zonta, marketing development manager for Younger Optics. “Every patient needs two pairs of eyewear to maintain the safety of his or her vision.”
“Many ODs don’t want to charge the patient too much. That’s why they don’t mention it. It’s up to the patient to make the decision. So it should be mentioned. When ODs are in the exam room, they forget about discussing sunwear,” she continues. “More younger people are getting diagnosed with cataracts and macular degeneration, which can be prevented by wearing the right sunwear.”
According to a Vision Council survey from this year, only 11.5 percent of people surveyed wore prescription sunwear. While men and women were evenly split when it came to prescription sunwear, demographics by age were more revealing. People 55 years old and older represented almost 43 percent of those who wear prescription sunwear, followed by people ages 45 to 54 representing 12.4 percent, and the percentages decreasing with the respondants’ ages.
Jon Torrey, Essilor’s Vice President, Multi-Pair, Xperio, says that polarized prescription lenses are an underpenetrated market: “Based on our research, prescription polarized sunwear represents about six percent of all lenses sold. The opportunity is significant. But ensuring that we have the widest range of availability and the best performing lenses isn’t enough. We want to create new business.”
Onine Promotions for Consumers
Along with the traditional methods of helping ECPs sell polarized product–like demo tools and pamphlets–lens manufacturers are also taking their polarized brands and training modules online. Essilor has created on-demand webinars at Xperiousa.com/training, so ECPs can learn to more confidently introduce and sell polarized sunwear to patients. Along with touting the benefits of polarized lenses over ordinary tinted lenses, Essilor also advises doctors how to position the product pricewise.
“We’ve found that those ECPs who are most successful offer a value discount for a second pair of eyeglasses,” Torrey notes. “The two main barriers to selling this product are the lack of mentioning it and then the price.” For price-sensitive patients, he recommends 30 to 50 percent off second pairs.
Torrey also says Essilor helps educate ECPs about which frames will and won’t work with Xperio products. He adds that consumers often have vision insurance benefits for prescription sunwear they didn’t realize were available.
Polarized Sales Increasing
Despite this category’s seemingly small presence in the prescription lens market, sales have been growing. According to a Vision Council survey of sales from January 2009 to June 2010, sales of polarized prescription lenses only are rising steadily. In 2009, the category enjoyed 8.4 percent growth, compared to the previous year, representing 5.6 percent of the total prescription lens shipments. For the first six months of 2010, more than 2.6 million pairs of polarized lenses were shipped, a 17.4 percent increase over the prior year, and accounting for 6.9 percent of all prescription lens shipments.
Prompt the Sunwear Discussion
It doesn’t take much time in the exam room to talk to patients about sunwear. When patients call–or you call patients–to schedule appointments, ask them to bring in their current sunwear so the doctor can see what they are using to protect their eyes from UV exposure
Doctors can compare the cost of upgrading to polarized prescription lenses to things patients do everyday–the number of times they might fill their gas tanks, or get a dental checkup. For the same price as other things they do daily, they can get a new pair of polarized prescription lenses that last longer than tinted lenses (which can fade) and can be worn daily and give enhanced vision and color perception, and safety while driving.
Leverage Consumer Trust
A recent Harris poll shows that consumers trust their eyecare professionals: Some 78 percent of patients trust their opticians, 83 percent trust their internists and 87 percent trust their ophthalmologists. Just 27 percent trust a politician.
As optometrists, you have your patients’ trust and can greatly influence them to choose the best possible protective sunwear.
Keys to Selling Polarized Rx Lenses
Walter Choate, OD, of Choate Eye Associates in Goodlettsville, Tenn., says the biggest issue in successfully selling polarized prescription sunwear is “getting the doctor and staff to buy-in on functional and medical necessity, and letting the opticians run with it afterwards.” He recommends the following methods for selling polarized prescription eyewear:
EyeStar TV in the reception area with streaming video on a lot of products…including advantages of polarized lenses.
Ask all patients to bring with them to their appointment any sunglasses, prescription glasses and contact lenses they use.
Ask the patients about sunglasses use in pretesting. Our doctors prescribe polarized lenses in the exam room and hand off to the optician with that recommendation.
Have a polarized lens demo unit in the dispensary and a large inventory of non-prescription sunglasses.
Encourage the patient to walk outside with the polarized lenses to compare vision with and without.
After benefits are reinforced by the opticians…there is usually no push-back on money.
Walter Choate, OD, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Other ECPs Share Polarized Lens Tips
Selling by Example
One way to sell is by example. “I show patients my own polarized sunglasses, and I tell them that these are the only ones I would wear,” says Adam Clarin, of Clarin Eye Care and Optical Center in Palmetto Bay, Fla., near Miami. “For the best vision outdoors, polarized is the way to go,” About half of their prescription sunwear sales are in polarized prescription lenses, and it’s trending up because the staff is getting better at prescribing it, says Clarin.
“Everybody knows what a sunglass is, but patients need to be educated about the benefits of polarized lenses. We compete on service and quality, not price,” says Clarin, who feels that many ODs are reluctant to bring it up at all because it costs more.
Once people use the product, they are hooked. “People appreciate the quality and will get another pair if they lose their polarized sunglasses,” Clarin adds.
Demonstrating the Difference
At Houston Optical, managing optician Oscar Racine notes that “Many patients don’t even know about the benefits of polarized sunwear until we discuss it with them. I always make it a point to tell them that polarized lenses will not fade like tinted lenses.”
Houston Optical dispenses eyewear for Houston Eye Associates, which has 47 ophthalmologists and five optometrists serving multiple locations. Racine notes that one stumbling block is that “some patients who are on vision plans don’t want to pay more than what is covered by their insurance.” At Houston Optical, the cost of polarized lenses might run anywhere from $125 to $150 more than the base lens itself.
Seth J. Bookey is Managing Editor of the Review of Optometric Management. He can be reached at email@example.com.