Dispensing, Feature

Competing with millennial outlets: Part 1

Changing tastes and new retailers are sending younger customers online. In the first of a two-part series, Leigh Robinson explains how trust can get millennials excited and engaged with your practice.

We are nearly two decades into the 21st century and the ophthalmic industry is facing increased competition, shrinking margins and changing consumer behaviours.

Our challenge as optometrists and optical dispensers is to build trust so our customers accept that we, and the products we recommend, are reliable. You see, we are comfortable when we surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe. This creates trust and makes us feel good about ourselves and our decisions.

Trust is the acceptance of the truth without evidence. In the dispensing of optical appliances, our customers need to have a lot of trust in us. They find evidence difficult to obtain and when they do, they don’t understand it.

When we are able to build trust, we become more comfortable taking risks, exploring other possibilities and recommending better lens solutions to our customers. We can recommend products because they believe what we believe.

Our customers can, and will, look things up purchase optical products online, but that cannot form trust. The internet cannot replace a human bond, how we relate to each other and the response we have when we see another person smile.

Fashion forward

Many ophthalmic practices believe the eye test powers their businesses, but if it did there would be a far greater response to recall letters. I believe that, indisputably, we are in the fashion industry. It’s why we have mirrors in our practices.

If we want to compete with millennial-focused outlets, that’s the arena we must be in.

The whole idea of fashion is to create social pressure so you believe your current item is old, even though it is working perfectly fine. The idea of fashion is social pressure to keep up with trends.

But fashion is not just the latest style, trends, craze, rage, fad or fancy. According to the Oxford dictionary, fashion is also defined as, convention, custom, practice and usage.

If you want to compete with millennial focused outlets you need to accept that you are in the fashion industry first, and the ophthalmic industry second. Both complement each other magnificently, but you must acknowledge that it’s not the thorough eye test or the technologically advanced lenses that attract customers. It is the story we tell through the means of fashion. I call it ‘Value Fashion’.

Value Fashion is for life. Today’s millennial customers want experience-based shopping, both at the time of purchase and as they use their product. They want these experiences to affect how they feel about themselves.

To separate yourself from the big box and millennial-focused stores, you need to develop a ‘shop within a shop’ concept and create an optical practice that is a ‘Value Fashion’ shopping destination.

Millennial shoppers want value, but value is not just the price of goods. The meaning of value is also, utility, practicality, advantage, desirability, efficacy and benefit. Value Fashion is very much about telling a story of the benefits of available lens technologies, plus the fashion concepts of convention, custom, practice and usage.

What do millennials want?

A millennial is a person who reached maturity around the turn of the century and are now considered to be aged between 32 and 45 years old. They are the children of the baby-boomers and are developing or early presbyopes.

Millennials are incredibly sophisticated technology-wise and immune to most traditional marketing and sales pitches. These are the people that will research a product before buying it instore or online.

Get over it! Buying online is the way it is nowadays, but they still need you to provide expertise in lenses.

Today’s customers have high levels of marketing scepticism and want clear explanations of product benefits. They are willing to spend on brands they know and trust. And don’t forget, that brand can be you and the practice you represent.

Today’s patient will not respond favourably to you telling them they need new glasses; they need their interest kindled somehow. Today’s customers are time-poor, know more and expect more. And they know the difference between what is quality and what isn’t.

Use your story, or your ‘shop within a shop’ concept, and Value Fashion to change people’s lives and how they shop with you. Sure, the millennial customer will want to look fashionable, but they also want solutions for their lifestyle.

In part 2 we will look how you can use lens technology and your store’s image to engage customers and present them with a lifestyle solution.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leigh Robinson is optical dispensing champion, consultant and training facilitator at Spectrum Optical and a teacher of Cert IV in Optical dispensing at RMIT University Melbourne. He conducts optical dispensing short courses, workshops and in-house training options to suit individual practice needs across Australia. Visit: spectrumoptical.com.au