Tips to Sell More Sunwear to Seniors

By Colleen Hannegan, ABOC, CPO

Jan. 3, 2018

Senior patients need to visit your office to preserve their eye health and vision–and to purchase products to protect their eyes from the sun–and give their personal style a boost. Sunwear can improve the lives of older patients, making driving, outdoor sports and hobbies more enjoyable, but it also can appeal to many seniors’ desire to be fashionable and of the moment.

As a dispensing optician for over 35 years, and an older person myself, I am experiencing first-hand the challenges, and joy, of finding the right sunwear.

Along with style opportunities, sunwear is important to improve the functioning and enjoyment of life as we age. Seniors have special needs for sun protection because of changes in the aging eye, such as the development of cataracts, and the effects of cataract surgery. Post-cataract surgery patients may be extra photo-phobic, and need a darker tint or polarized lens.

In addition, seniors often have difficulty driving due to eye conditions that become more common as we get older, such as a detached vitreous, the presence of floaters and glare, and slower reaction times. All of this creates the need for the best visual clarity when driving. The right sunwear can enhance the ability of seniors to safely drive and be independent.

Don’t Market to “Seniors”
The first rule of marketing to today’s seniors is realizing that, perhaps even more so than previous generations, they don’t want to be labeled as “senior.” A “senior” discount, or promotion, may not be well received by all patients. Many don’t want to be categorized as older, or elderly. Rather than offering a “senior” discount, you could make it fun by offering a discount to anyone who knows the answer to a trivia question that older patients would have an advantage of answering, like questions about pop music hits from the 1960s or 1970s, or even current events trivia from that era. A younger patient could look up the answer online, but asking fun questions that relate especially to things older patients would remember, and enjoy reminiscing about, shows the practice has an interest in more than just the youngest patients and current pop culture.

Applying that idea to sunglasses, you could have a small display with maybe a dozen sunglasses featuring both current, and retro, styles (which happen, ironically, to be current again), with a graphic of people from the 1960s, maybe free online stock photos of Woodstock, with the banner: “Remember, the Summer of Love?” Or another idea would be to have sunwear similar to styles worn by rock stars in the 1960s and 1970s, displayed under free stock photos showing those stars in scenes from that era. It would certainly be a way of getting not just your seniors’ attention, but maybe even that of younger patients.

Address Light Sensitivity
I have experienced a detached vitreous in both eyes, resulting in sensitivity to light. So, I’ve become especially well skilled at listening to the complaints of my fellow seniors looking for the best sunglasses. The most common complaint I hear and see myself, is that the eyes are so sensitive to light. The related complaint is diminished acuity when the sunglasses’ tint is too dark.

As doctor, be sure in your prescription for the patient that you specify the right sunwear tint, and reinforce that prescription in the handoff to the optician. Too often, the optician hears the first complaint about light sensitivity and quickly recommends a solid Grey 3 tint, or worse, a solid polarized Grey. Those two choices work for some seniors, but more often, that tint density reduces the patient’s visual acuity for driving.

An anti-reflective (AR) treatment on the backside of sunglasses often works well for seniors. You could try offering a lower cost lens for the backside only. Seniors will appreciate your explanation of added glare reduction from the sides and from back light. Seniors also often request wraparound styles in frames to further eliminate unwanted glare.

3 Key Questions to Ask Seniors About Sunwear
“May I see the sunglasses you’ve been wearing, and could you tell me how they’ve been working for you?” This is a good place to begin assessing the next step in choosing a better tint or fit. It also acknowledges that maybe they love what they’ve been wearing, and want the same style/fit/tint again. Asking and then listening attentively will help relax the patient who is no longer in a big hurry to get anywhere, and often complains that nobody listens.

“Is there anything you’d like to improve in your next pair of sunglasses?” This is part two of the first question. This is where we show we’re really listening. (A big plus to valued senior patients.) Listen to how often a senior patient will say something like:

“Well, yes. I’d like to be able to see road signs more clearly.”

“I need a lightweight pair that doesn’t bother the hearing aids I just got.”

“I’d like something more stylish and fun.”

“This pair I’ve had forever works just fine. Maybe I’ll just get new lenses.”

After listening to all their requests, complaints and maybes, now it’s your optician’s turn to address those requests. It’s helpful to repeat back to your seniors what they asked of you, and say you will address all those issues, and that you’d like to show them what’s new, too. This is why the third question is so important:

“ I understand all you’ve mentioned. May I show you some frame suggestions I feel would work great for you, along with some tints designed to enhance your visual clarity?” Wait for the yes and proceed. Older eyes, while extra-sensitive to light, can also find too dark a tint cuts down on clarity. Consider brown tint and a gradient brown polarized lens for their sunglasses. Even when they swear they prefer a polarized solid grey or solid grey tint, I ask permission to demonstrate a gradient polarized brown and tinted non-polarized brown in front of their clear Rx lenses. I ask them to look out through the sunlit windows and compare brown to grey and polar to non-polarized lenses. Patience here is important; be sure to train your opticians to give their senior patients ample time to make a decision.

Eight out of 10 times, my senior patients are surprised at how much clearer they see through a brown lens than a grey lens. I explain how blue light, the harsher light of the visible color spectrum, has a hard time passing through a brown tint. And that it increases one’s visual acuity while blocking the brightest light. The other two patients stick with their grey tint, but we get a chance to discuss just how dark is dark grey.

Using tint samples is the best help. Allowing seniors to try the lenses themselves, and choose, with a little help from their friends, goes a long way toward senior satisfaction.

Let Opticians Know if Patient is Pre- or Post-Cataract
As doctor, it’s up to you to set the conversation for the patient and optician, based on your exam findings and the patient’s history. It’s important to let your opticians know if a patient is pre- or post-cataract surgery. Pre-cataract definitely will need a lighter brown tint while post-cataract will need a darker lens choice. I have found that many seniors aren’t forthcoming in expressing their needs.

It’s important to discuss with post-cataract patients how their vision has changed since having the surgery, and how their brightened world may require a new pair of sunglasses.

The optician who can ask the right questions, listen fully to the answers, and have tint samples and appealing styles to show, is best equipped to serve–and sell to–seniors.



Colleen Hannegan ABOC CPO, a licensed optician, owns Spirited Business Advisor. This consultancy works with small businesses, including independent eyecare practices, on how best to serve customers and generate profitability. To contact her:


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