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How do I...

Creating an online shop

Optometrist and practice owner of Valarie Jerome Optometrists, Dr Valarie Jerome, discusses how building her business during the pandemic led her to establish an online offering

hands holding tablets
Getty/Zubada

I created an online shop for my practice out of necessity. Having only been open four months at the time of the first lockdown, I didn’t have any recalls or email lists to market to and therefore needed to find a way of making money.

Initially, I worked on building the practice’s social media presence, and getting more engagement on social media. In doing that, I realised that there was no point in getting people engaged online if I couldn’t offer them anything online. As a result, I set up my own web shop and filled it with eye care products and sunglasses, with free home delivery to those in the local area.

Shortly afterwards I began to stock an eye care product called We Love Eyes, and, as one of the only suppliers in the UK, people across the country began to discover it and order it through my online shop.

I would love to expand the shop in the future and will shortly be adding an area where people can view, but not purchase, the optical frames that are available in practice. This will work as an online shop window and will help get the practice noticed. It will allow potential patients to see what is on offer, enabling them to feel more comfortable and confident when they come in.

I created an online shop for my practice out of necessity. Having only been open four months at the time of the first lockdown, I didn’t have any recalls or email lists to market to and therefore needed to find a way of making money

 

Creating the shop

Creating the shop really was quite simple and has paid dividends for the business during the pandemic. I would encourage other independent practices to explore it as an option.

Valarie
Optometrist and practice owner , Dr Valarie Jerome
I began by simply doing some research on what the best e-commerce site to use was. While I initially opted to use a site that had a free offer, I have since switched to a platform that allows my credit card terminal to run through it – this is something that I would recommend practice owners consider when selecting a platform.

Most e-commerce sites will offer users a pin plate that enables you to build the template for your web shop from. I found using these templates to be similar to programmes like Canva and PowerPoint, so it was very easy to use. I picked it up as I went and believe most practitioners would be able to do so as well. It took me around four days, working between three and four hours a day on it, to set the web shop up.

The part of the process that took the longest was adding the descriptions for each product that I wanted to sell. While this isn’t mandatory, I think it is beneficial for the customer.

I then shared the designs with some friends and family to get their opinions on the look and feel, and to test it out, and made some adjustments following their feedback.

Creating the shop really was quite simple and has paid dividends during the pandemic

 

Products

Prior to setting up the web shop, I did a lot of local research, including on social platforms such as Instagram. I also spoke to retailers locally and in doing so built up an idea of what would work for the local area, what people like and what they want. This research helped inform and support my decisions on what products I would offer on the web shop. It was an important phase as it allowed me to get to know more about the wants and needs of potential customers. The web shop would only work if it catered for the right audience.

I also had to be sure that my online store front married with the in-store experience and ethos that I was offering. For example, I considered investing in virtual try-on software to support potential customers in making their purchasing decisions. However, in the practice we provide a bespoke and boutique experience, during which we curate and guide our patients when selecting frames and a virtual try-on service online didn’t fit with this.

Business benefits

Having an online shop has brought my practice more exposure, locally and nationally. It hasn’t just been about selling the products. The increased visits that it has brought to the practice website means that the practice now ranks higher on Google and is a lot easier to find via a web search than it was previously.

I’ve not paid for Google Ads, I’ve built the practice’s online presence organically. When I first started, if you typed in ‘opticians Newbury’ into the search engine, my practice wouldn’t come up on first page, or even the second. But now it is listed with the big guys.

Having a web shop has made my website more popular, in turn making it more popular with Google and, as a result, has made the practice easier to find for potential patients.

However, the web shop didn’t bring in business to the practice or boost our online presence overnight. I had to give it time and be patient. It certainly has paid off now.


  • As told to Emily McCormick.