3 Practice Adaptions to Successfully Compete with Online Retail

By Aaron Neufeld, OD, FAAO

Oct. 17, 2018

The growth of online retail requires that independent practices innovate and adapt. Here are three adaptions my practice has made over the last five years.

Offer Patients a Competitive Contact Lens Deal
Prevent utilization of online retailers at the get-go. If a patient says they want to buy their contacts online, we tell them that (for the most part) we match and beat online contact lens retailers. We also tell them about in-office rebates that we can give for annual supplies. In addition, we tend to shy away from prescribing contact lens brands that favor selling their lenses via private label and as generics for big-box stores.

Take action after getting the dreaded prescription verification fax. Getting a prescription
verification fax does not mean the patient’s business is lost! When we get these faxes we often
call the patient and offer a better price than what the retailer is offering.

Cost: Since our prices are competitive with online retailers, this adaption does not cost much monetarily.
However, a fair amount of time has to be placed in conversing with the patient both at the front desk
and sometimes in the exam room. If you have to price-match, this may affect your bottom line

Our contact lens sales competitive strategy has a two-fold benefit to this practice. First, it increases your bottom line. You are adding contact-lens sales that would otherwise escape your office. Second, it adds patient confidence. Your patients are shown that they can get the “full treatment” at your office at a fair and competitive price.

We also tell patients that they have the option of ordering contacts from our online store. We give patients a small business card that has our site URL and a caption stating that we will beat online retailers. About 5 percent of our contact lens sales are captured online.

The contact lens room in Dr. Neufeld’s office. Contacting patients after getting the “dreaded” prescription verification fax from an online retailer allows Dr. Neufeld to make a competing offer, and capture the sale.

Results: Since making this practice adaption a little over a year ago, we have seen contact lens revenue numbers increase. Our receptionist counts at least 10 annual supplies we have converted that would have gone to an online retailer. That equates to roughly $5,000 in gross revenues.

This practice adaption takes work. You need to train and coach your staff in how to approach the topic of contact lens sales, so that the patient sees it purely as beneficial to them and not just a ploy to compete in sales with online competitors. Try a few different scripts to get the message across and ensure conversions.

Establish Good Will with Patients 
Shift our patients to premium daily disposable lenses. Currently about 68 percent of our contact-lens-wearing patients are in daily disposable lenses. This is a number we are very proud of. Not only are daily disposable lenses healthier, more comfortable and overall better for the patient, but they tend to sell better from the office, especially newer, premium lenses (as opposed to monthly lenses that have been on the market for longer–price differentials tend to not be as drastic).

Patients always have a big smile on their faces as they walk out with a big (practice-branded) bag of a year supply of daily disposable contact lenses.

We also offer a discount on plano sunglasses with a year supply purchase of daily disposable contacts. Every patient will still need plano sunglasses on top of contact lenses when they are outside. This can help boost optical sales and build good will.

Use the power of reciprocity. We always give a surplus of trial contact lenses to each patient.
This ensures that they can be comfortable with the lens that they are wearing, and it’s a simple way to show patients that we care about them. We also give contact lens solutions and hand soaps when we feel they are necessary. Not only do we form a better relationship with our patients by doing this; we also establish a culture of reciprocity in which the patient is more likely to purchase contact lenses from our practice. Doubt the power of reciprocity? Read  “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Dr. Robert Cialdini.

Cost:  The only monetary cost to this practice adaption is giving out hand soap and contact lens solutions (most of the time we give out the starter packs, which are provided by the contact lens company, but occasionally we splurge by giving out full-sized bottles when the situation permits). You should be looking at no more than a few hundred dollars annually. Remember, you are giving the free stuff (trials and sample solutions/tears) to every patient, but only giving the costly materials, like full-size bottles, in special situations, like to a specialty lens patient whom you worked a long time with to get the prescription right.

The reality behind this technique is that an unprecedented level of customer interaction and service will ultimately lead to a competitive advantage. Disruptive technologies work because they act on a different playing field. They attempt to circumvent competition completely, which means that we as practitioners have to counteract with our own method of circumventing competition. Our biggest asset in this counteraction is goodwill and human interaction.

Remember that to build goodwill, you need to act as a constant lifeline to the patient. Be willing to serve the patient when needed, including giving out trials and even mailing them out compliments of your practice when necessary.

Results: Considering a year supply of premium daily contact lenses grosses roughly double what a year supply of monthly lenses does, this will undoubtedly raise your net income. Then, factoring in the conversions of patients who may have gone online/elsewhere, the realized profit is massive.

Show the Value of Your Services
Patient education is key here. I love the power of diagnostic technology and showing how its utilization can save a patient’s vision and health. I always explain to patients that the eye exam is much more than just refraction. I actively talk through my findings from the slit lamp examination, and since most of our patients elect to do Optomap Widefield Retinal Imaging, I also educate patients about my findings from that more advanced screening. I talk them through their Optos photos and open up my “Little File of Horrors” to show pictures of retinas with pathology.

If they mention an online exam, or a “glasses only” exam from a chain store, I use this as an opportunity to preach about the importance of an annual comprehensive eye exam and the true value it can bring. This includes discussing systemic health benefits that can be detected upon retinal examination and slit lamp examination. I cannot count the amount of (now) established patients who switched over to our practice from HMOs and corporate practices that were skimping on the eye exam. The satisfaction of completeness is powerful.

You can take this one step further. In your marketing materials (mailings/online ads), market your expertise and the thoroughness of your services.

Cost: The main cost is time. The old saying “time is money” rings true, however this time has an important ROI: your patient’s trust in your ability as a practitioner to serve their eyecare needs.

Results: The impact is immense. Patients’ eye and general health are the lifeblood of our profession. The catalyst in the constant war between low-level and high-level healthcare is care.

It is hard to put a solid number on this practice adaption, but keeping a patient in your practice has a huge ROI, especially when they have confidence in your abilities to manage their health. This creates opportunities for optical/contact lens sales and even more valuable: A referral source for future patients.

Showing patients the value of your services should be an ingrained behavior that helps both you and your patients.


Aaron Neufeld, OD, is the owner of Los Altos Optometric Group in Los Altos, Calif., and co-founder of ODs on Finance. To contact:

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