It is no longer enough to be a good optician and it is no longer enough to offer a good service.
Today’s consumer is information hungry and can access pretty much everything they want online before they even visit a practice, as well as while they are there and after they leave.
Consequently, the concept of ‘store environment’ has changed dramatically in recent years and continues to evolve further still.
The immediate ‘store environment’ is the interior and exterior look and feel of the practice premises, the people who represent the business and the sounds and smells that the customer (I choose that word rather than ‘patient’) experiences when in and around a practice.
An integral extension of this is also the contact that the customer has with the brand when they are outside of the store, which is usually through an online experience, but is still very much part of the ‘store environment.’ Attention to both is essential.
Independent practitioners need to offer something different to the chains or to the online discounters that they compete with. Equally as important, they need to communicate that difference to their customers.
Test the experience
So step outside for a minute and have a look at the practice from the outside…be honest with yourself, what does it say to you?
There are very few optical practices in the UK that would not benefit from a re-fit. In recent months I have encountered some fantastic new store fits, such as Broadhurst Opticians in Lytham. Equally, there are also some terrible practice re-fits that have cost a fortune.
"It does cost money to improve your business, but improving your retail environment – both in-store and online – is one of the best investments you can make in your business. The alternative does not really bear thinking about"
Where to start
A practice environment needs to suggest that a professional medical service, great frames and a pleasurable experience are waiting for the consumer. So how do you do that?
Start by identifying your target market. Think about who you want to attract into your store. Then think about what they would hope to find and what sort of environment would attract them.
Do not be afraid of losing some loyal customers. If you have their confidence, they will trust your judgement and come with you, but you will certainly attract a new audience also.
Research new products online and visit international trade shows to discover new brands that your competitors do not have – give the consumer a reason to visit you and only you.
Naturally, the environment that is created must be right not only for the client, but also for presenting the frames that are stocked in their best possible light. Practitioners could ask an independent store designer to help guide them, but I would definitely think twice before updating a store with an off-the-shelf store kit. By definition that is just ‘more of the same.’
Make sure staff present the right image. The medical side of optics is our primary concern, but the consumer assumes a professional eye test as standard. However, they also want to leave looking and feeling amazing – how else can you persuade them to part with their hard-earned cash?
A practice’s online presence is extremely important. There is certain basic information that the consumer expects to find online, but the best websites give them a flavour of the experience they will have by visiting the store too.
Using social media to connect with customers is also part of the ‘store environment.’ I can hear my father saying to me: “What has that got to do with optics?,” but it is a commercial reality today.
Do not be scared by any of this. Help is out there. There are great independent store designers, and a wealth of online enthusiasts and experts to offer their support.
It does cost money to improve your business, but improving your retail environment – both in-store and online – is one of the best investments you can make in your business. The alternative does not really bare thinking about.
Share your views on the importance of the 'store environment', as well as any successful online initiatives, on the AOP's community forums.