Our transition to life online has been steadily growing for more than a quarter of a century. The trend began with news media and information, followed by social media and entertainment and more recently we are seeing private businesses increasing their online presence.
The reasoning makes sense – businesses can provide better service to their customers and greater convenience, while often improving efficiency within the business’ systems and processes. Non-consumer-facing management systems, meanwhile, create similar productivity boosts within a practice.
So why isn’t everyone doing this? Often, the answer is at least one of the following reasons:
- The business owner or staff have reservations about trying something new in a space they are not familiar with
- There is a skill or knowledge gap whereby the business owner is unsure of how to set up these systems
- There is a perception that the setup cost can be prohibitive compared to the return that can be expected from it
These obstacles should be taken into consideration when developing an online plan, but learning from those around you and leveraging existing services is prudent when deciding if, and how, you want to move into the online arena.
Optometry is experiencing a strong move towards online platforms; be it point-of-sale, management systems or sales platforms, the tools available are myriad. Many suppliers now offer portals that perform various functions, so investigate these first before investing time and money in creating anything bespoke.
The Independent Optometry Group (IOG) invests considerable time in systems development. We are in a unique position to assist with the pain points listed above, with our sole aim being that of adding value to our members' practices through efficiency and productivity. This allows them to be the strongest independent practice they can be, with some powerful streamlined support.
Creating efficiencies is only one aspect, though - ultimately, the impetus for businesses employing online tools is to increase profits. An online platform can provide an easy, comfortable way to increase revenue, or maintain it, especially in a year like 2020, which was difficult for face-to-face time with patients, but it can also create new ways of generating revenue through different pricing models and play a key role in customer retention, which is critical to long-term practice sustainability. Ultimately, both points can reduce your risk profile as a practice, securing revenue amid disruption in the short and longer term.
IOG recently launched its Xpress Online service allowing practices to easily operate in this space. It’s early in its rollout but the ability to offer contact lenses to patients in this way is proving useful. What is more fruitful, though, is a functionality that is hard to replicate offline. Critically, it is the practice’s own online store and it controls all pricing and the products that it wishes to sell; the IOG simply provides the SaaS (Software as a Service) platform.
A subscription service that gives patients the option to pay for their goods more conveniently over a 12-month period instead of all-in-one-go is also a powerful proposition, as more payment options for the consumer are more likely to result in a decision to purchase.
In short, there are plenty of systems out there, including some IOG is developing, that allow independent optometry practices to better compete, using tools and systems similar to those created within the corporate sector, which support growth in line with the trends that match and reflect current consumer behaviour.
Staying the same is no longer an option! Not moving forward with online platforms and services effectively means you are moving backwards as a business; with the current rapid rate of change, this could lead to being out of touch very quickly.
That said, there’s no need to make giant leaps and bounds overnight but opening a dialogue within your practice about these ideas is important. I would urge you to get a feel for how your younger team members purchase in other industries to explore the crossover.
The opportunities are most certainly there – all it takes is a little proactivity to get things moving in the online direction.
Campbell Wiltshire is the Independent Optometry Group’s business development and marketing manager. To find out more about how IOGroup can help make your practice thrive, please get in touch with Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org or IOGroup’s CEO Neil Human at email@example.com