When optometrist and audiologist duo, Anand and Anshul Morjaria, acquired Camden Contact Lens Centre in December 2016, the practice operated on an in-store basis only.
With no website, establishing the business’ online offering was an immediate focus for the brothers, and this included enabling its 13,000 active contact lens patients to order their lenses online.
“We live in a digital era and you are almost frowned upon by patients when you refuse to take part,” audiologist and practice owner, Anshul Morjaria told OT.
It was the patient that was at the centre of the business’ decision to allow patients to begin ordering contact lenses online, which began in January 2017.
“The needs of patients, particularly those in London, are changing every day and people want things now, now, now,” he explained, adding: “A big benefit for patients being able to order online is that they can order whenever they want, anytime of day, even when the store is closed.”
This viewpoint has been confirmed by data which shows that most orders are placed when the practice is closed.
“By only accepting telephone orders previously, we could have been easily missing out on this additional business,” Mr Morjaria said, highlighting that convenience is key for patient retention.
There are some restrictions in place when it comes to ordering online, as Mr Morjaria explained. Clients must be a current patient of the practice, their eye examination and contact lens prescription must be up-to-date, and they must be over 18 years old.
“We have those limitations controlled on our ordering system, which not all e-commerce platforms do, and the patient will not be able to progress unless they meet the criteria,” the practice owner explained.
"Time is precious to us all and therefore convenience is vital if you are going to compete"
A large patient database, combined with a large unit size of over 4500sq ft, means the practice is able to hold a large range of contact lenses in stock and it can easily meet the demands of a six-month supply request.
However, this meant that previously when a patient called to order lenses, the process was time intensive for employees.
Consequently, staff efficiency has improved since introducing online ordering. “It means staff are a lot more productive because they are not having to pick up the phone, put the patient on hold, go to check the record, check for stock, pack the box, and call the patient back,” the practice owner explained.
Fast guaranteed delivery times have also been secured with DX, meaning patients will receive their order within 24 hours if ordered before 2pm, and 48 hours if ordered after 2pm.
Posting direct from the practice provides Camden Contact Lens Centre with the opportunity to raise brand awareness with the customer, as well as educate them around new products.
All orders are sent out in a jiffy bag with the practice’s logo on, Mr Morjaria revealed, adding: “The way we see it is every parcel that goes out of our doors is an opportunity to market ourselves, so within them we may include a flyer or a sample of something too.”
Another business offering contact lens ordering online across its eight practices is Rawlings Opticians.
“It was something that we had been talking about implementing for a number of years, but there always seemed to be something more important to tackle first, such as optical coherence tomography or myopia management,” admitted optometrist and director, Rachel Smith.
The optical group introduced online ordering around six months ago and has already observed a number of business benefits.
Ms Smith explained: “The main driver [of introducing the service] was the convenience that it would offer the patient – no doubt we will have had patients who would have ordered from an online contact lens supplier because we didn’t do it before,” she admitted.
For optometrist and director David Barker, the service is undoubtedly helping the independent with patient retention. “We price up our lenses competitively because we want to do what we can to keep our current patients happy and make sure they don’t go anywhere else – profit is focused on the fitting. This service now gives our customers one more reason to remain loyal,” he said.
And as patient awareness of the service grows, feedback has been positive. “Staff have been encouraged to talk to patients about the new service and we have included details in our newsletters and reminder letters,” Ms Smith explained. “It has been positively received so far – their eyes have lit up when learning about the service.”
From a staff perspective, the service enables optical assistants to better manage their time, as Mr Barker noted. “Previously, staff would be interrupted in the middle of a task by a telephone order, or at times when the practice was busy with patients in-store too.”
“By offering an online ordering service, we can better control the work flow,” he added.
Once an order form is completed online, the relevant practice is alerted by email. Staff check the email “every hour or so” and if the patient meets the requirements, the order is processed. The lenses are sent directly from the manufacturer so the cost remains neutral for the independent.
The process is not yet fully automated at Camden Contact Lens Centre or Rawlings, with both businesses opting to keep payment offline for the time being.
Encouraging other independents to consider offering contact lens ordering online, Mr Morjaria told OT: “Sometimes you can think that it’s more hassle than it’s worth, but I can see from our practice, for the patients and the staff, that the benefits definitely outweigh the negatives.”
Ms Smith reiterated this, adding: “There can be very few independents nowadays who do not have a website, so the cost of implementing this is microscopic. Yet the time it saves staff and the convenience that it can offer customers is large; time is precious to us all and therefore convenience is vital if you are going to compete.”
Image credit: Getty