Navigating Online Eyewear

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THE ONLINE EYEWEAR LANDSCAPE HAS CHANGED DRAMATICALLY IN CANADA. MORE CANADIANS SEE BUYING GLASSES ONLINE AS A CONVENIENT AND EASY WAY TO GET A NEW PAIR.

The eyewear industry has been reluctant to embrace this new retail channel over fears of the quality of frames and lenses. Glasses delivered directly to the consumer are not checked by an eyecare professional.
The result has been high return rates due to poor fit or quality.
A 2012 study out of the School of Optometry of the Université de Montréal examined 16 frames and 32 lenses that were purchased from online glasses retailers. The research- ers found that six of the lenses did not match the prescription and 13 of the 16 frames did not receive a passing grade in terms of fit.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Optometry that evaluated 154 on- line eyewear orders showed nearly half of the prescription glasses did not meet patient’s “visual or physi- cal needs”. The study showed 28.6 per cent of the glasses contained at least one lens that failed a compo- nent of the optical analysis.
Online eyewear businesses in Canada have begun to change the process of buying online through requiring optician verified prescriptions and more recently requiring glasses ordered online be delivered to and dispensed by an eyecare provider.
“I think that ECPs are feeling chal- lenged by the idea of online eyewear sales as historically these sales do not happen within provincial regu- lations, of which ECPs must operate. This is unfair competition.
“Some studies we’ve seen also suggest that eyewear purchased online do not always meet accepted standards and tolerances,” said Lorne Kashin, a registered optician and The Executive Director Ontario Opticians Association. “Some ECPs are holding on to the notion that Internet sales can be stopped. To date, we haven’t seen any successes at stopping these sales in
the courts.
The Internet has no borders and it would be impossible to police these sales that come from hundreds of websites worldwide. Change can be hard. Or it can be exciting,” said Kashin.
ECPs have also been challenged by large online companies are open- ing store fronts in Canadian cities and designer brands are offering frames that can be purchased at the store and brought to an ECP. As a result, independent eyecare providers are facing a great challenge to provide complete eyecare service beyond exams.

“I think that buying eyewear online in the past didn’t offer any opportunity for a trained ECP to verify that the completed eyewear is adequate for the patient. As useful as the virtual frame try-on app is, it doesn’t replace the actual trying on of the frame and experiencing how it feels,” said Kashin. “Without some form of prescription verification there is no safeguard that ensures the accuracy of the uploaded prescription.”
With the many options available in lens designs, materials, and coatings, I believe it takes the experience and knowledge of an ECP to help the patient navigate through all the choices.
Another concern is whether the jurisdiction where the eyewear is being produced has adequate if any, standards to ensure the safety and specifications of the eyewear.”
Recently new online eyewear companies have begun partnering with ECPs so that glasses ordered online are dispensed through an optician to ensure accuracy and fit.

Kashin noted the industry is changing its view of online sales because it’s something that the eyecare buying public has shown it wants. He said with technology evolving at such a fast pace, there are many new tools for ECPs to incorporate the Internet into their practices.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2010, Canadians purchased $15.3 billion in goods and services using the internet, up from $12.8 billion in 2007, and nearly double 2005 levels (7.9 billion).
Between 2007 and 2010, the number of orders placed online increased from 70 million to 113.1 million per year, with the “average value of internet orders per person” totaling $1,362 in 2010.
“This doesn’t necessarily mean that an ECP needs to actually sell glasses online but could utilize the Internet to showcase the frames and services they offer in order to enhance the dispensing process prior to the patient attending the ECP practice,” he said. “Those who run online stores can best serve the ECP and the public by offering models that comply with provincial regulations and employ ECP involvement in the dispensing continuum.”
He said he believes that the consumer would be best served with models that incorporate direct to ECP and then the consumer. He added any work that is done choosing the best frame and lens combination is “all for naught if the eyewear is not properly fitted to the client.”
“An in-person delivery dispensing model ensures that the eyeglasses fit, the lens specifications are appropriate, and the client is instructed as to the use and care of the device,” he said.
As Executive Director of the OOA, Kashin said he has heard the concerns of members who are both concerned about the quality of online eyewear as well as the effect it is having on their business.
“The OOA would be remiss if it didn’t seek out ways for opticians to promote their practices and the pro- fession. The Internet is here to stay and regulatory bodies have acknowledged the public’s embracing of it and are developing Standards Of Practice to ensure the public is adequately protected,” he said. “The associations need to help ECPs to find ways to work within provincial standards to service their patients and earn a living.
Of course, there are concerns about this shift by some of our members but there are also members who are early to adapt and will be taking advantage of these emerging opportunities now.”
Kashin said he believes that ECPs can leverage the online eyewear opportunity by incorporating some form of online presence into their practices. Whether it’s showcasing their products and services or using it at various stages of the dispensing continuum, the Internet opens up many opportunities to reach new clients and communicate with current ones.
“I think that this retail model is here to stay and will continue to evolve. The pace that technology
is changing will offer more and more ways for DIY healthcare and the practicing of Opticianry is no exception,” he said. “ECPs must participate in the evolution of dispensing in order to ensure that the public is best served and we remain relevant players. Hiding our heads in the sand is no option.”

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