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Cyber optical vs. Brick & Mortar

This is a subject that has been brewing in me for a few years and I can hardly believe I am just getting around to putting pen to paper about the matter.  One morning many years ago now, I saw a popular morning show host do an “informational” segment about buying glasses.  It became clear to me that not only was the host completely missing some crucial information for the public on the issue but she was all out encouraging them to support those who I believe have completely undermined the quality of the optical industry in the US.

Over the years I have seen a never ending supply of “deep discount” cyber optical places crop up but none of them have really concerned me until recently.  I became aware of a cyber optical company that is growing in popularity because they have a “Do good” philosophy that goes with their “cheap” eyeglasses.  I visited their site to see what was up and here is what I found.

1.  They say, “Prescription eyewear simply should not cost $300+. The industry is controlled by a few large companies that have kept prices artificially high, reaping huge profits from consumers who have no other options(???). By circumventing traditional channels and engaging with customers directly through our website, XXXX is able to provide higher-quality, better-looking prescription eyewear at a fraction of the price.”

My response:  It is true that there are huge conglomerates and world politics that directly influence the prices that consumers pay for well made eyewear today.  And, while there is plenty of mid quality product to be found at reasonable prices by the time the brick and mortar optical businesses buy the product it has been taxed, tariffed, purchased and redistributed to the point that the price is three time that of the actual “factory” cost to manufacture it.  AND, yes, if we as optical professionals all cut out the middle men and went straight to offshore or other discount factories we could all offer eyeglass frames for tens of dollars rather than hundreds.  We would also only be able to represent a small fraction of the the variety and quality of eyewear that is currently available to the consumer from all over the world which is why we are happy to pay the middle men.  For me, choice is good.

2.  They Say, “Brick and Mortar optical retailers are unnecessary and create more expense and mark up on products that could otherwise be very affordable from a factory direct sale.”

My response:  Yes, if we wanted to buy ANY item we use in our daily lives by cutting out the distributors and going straight to the factory we could save millions of dollars in our lifetime.  What we lose is the paid professional that is trained to weed out the lemons and sell only that which is worthy of their name.  Further, in optical specifically, accurate, specific eye measurements are critical to the optimal performance of your spectacle lenses even when they are just single vision.  Your optician is the only professional specifically trained to take these measurements properly and this means they are necessary by definition to your ability to purchase accurately made eyeglasses.

3.  They say, “Optical retailers are dinosaurs” and “We are the way of the new world of buying eyeglasses.”

My response:  Without brick and mortar optical, thousands of cyber clients would not know how to order their eyeglasses because they had to guess at their pupillary distance measurement.  Half of them won’t see well out of their new specs because the measurement they did provide you was not taken with a digital monocular measuring device (because how important could that be anyway?).  The rest would be returning their eyewear to the cyber factory because it did not fit properly when it arrived to them in the mail and there was no PERSON around to adjust them to stay on their heads.  In the last five months I have been asked by no less than three people to adjust glasses they ordered by mail over the internet.  The glasses simply did not fit them properly. PERIOD!  BTW, I adjusted them at no charge.

The human factor counts.  The experts that are passionate about their work matter and unless you like mediocrity you will give up trying to dehumanize the medical world.  As an optical professional who owns a brick and mortar business I have to say that optical services need to be a touch it, feel it, try it on industry.  Try as cyber stores might, to squeeze the humanity out of the shopping experience to save you a buck or ten, you will find that eventually you have to get out of your pajamas and engage the real world.  That is, unless you plan to be an expert in every field of discipline there is.

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