The New Normal: Optical Retailing Amidst COVID-19

The world has changed, so we’ve evolved the optical retail experience to be safer and quicker for everyone.

With the massive social distancing shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most businesses across most industries have been affected adversely.

Eyewear is no exception, particularly the brick-and-mortar eyewear retailers and eye care professionals (ECPs) who must operate in close proximity to their customers while conducting eye exams and frame fittings.

Most doors have been closed for months with limited stores opened for emergency services. As the economy begins to reopen in the coming months, customers will be considering whether they are comfortable coming back in for routine check-ups and to purchase new glasses and contacts.

Eyewear retailers and ECPs need to adapt to new customer expectations and behaviors that have been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been talking to many of our retail and ECP clients about their best practices, and are aggregating them along with our own recommendations.


1. Acknowledge and Address Customer Concerns

Customers are uncomfortable coming back into optical stores due to COVID-19.  We’ve spoken with hundreds of customers and common themes were:

“I don’t know how they’re handling eye exams and the glasses on the walls, so I think I’ll just wait to make my appointment.”

“I would rather shop online right now but I need to update my prescription so I guess I have to go in.”

“How are they sanitizing the frames on the wall? I’m nervous to touch them.”

“I’m uncomfortable spending a large amount of time in the store.”

Eyewear retailers and ECPs need to create a new customer journey, and policies, to keep their customers safe, and then actively market these changes to customers to get them comfortable enough to come back in.


2. Limit Customer Traffic

Eyewear retailers and ECPs are limiting customer flow so that social distancing guidelines can be met in stores. Most are also limiting the visit to just the customer with the exam and not allowing them to bring family members or friends to keep the foot traffic down.

Risking customer safety is not an option, so it will be critical for eyewear retailers and ECPs to create a quicker, more efficient no-or-low contact customer journey in stores. They will likely need to combine this with extended operating hours to see enough customers become profitable again.


3. Create a No-or-Low Contact Customer Customer Journey

Traditional retailers and restaurants are rapidly adopting no-contact interactions.  Eyewear retailers and ECPs need to quickly adapt to this new customer expectation as well.

Eye exams are notoriously close proximity. For these experiences, retailers and ECPs will need to shift to a low contact experience where all staff has proper personal protective equipment on, including gloves and masks.

They should also add protective shields to equipment where appropriate.  It’s recommended to sanitize (clean with soap and water and/or disinfecting with alcohol-based cleaning solutions) equipment in front of the customer to put them at ease.


4. Guide Customers on a No Contact Frame Discovery Session

The frame discovery experience is also concerning for customers given uncertainty about germs on the frame board samples that are publicly available to touch.

We are seeing clients move to an exclusive guided experience where a masked and gloved associate/optician guides each customer through the frame discovery experience so that customers aren’t touching frames on the frame board freely and every pair can be sanitized properly. They are also adding signage to talk to a staff member before touching the frame boards.


5. Make Frame Discovery Digital

To ensure safety and maintain control of the process, we recommend moving frame discovery to digital and having it guided by a store associate or optician in PPE.

Ditto’s Store iPad App was built exclusively for optical retail associates to enable them to help customers quickly and safely discover frames they love.  Store associates and opticians use Ditto’s Store iPad App to show customers insights about their prescription, face shape and measurements alongside personal frame recommendations that will fit perfectly.

Customers can layer in their personal style preferences to quickly hone in on styles they would like to try on physically. This drastically reduces the number of frames a customer needs to try on and speeds up the time to do frame discovery.

Once a frame is selected on the iPad, the associate/optician pulls and disinfects the selected frames from the wall in front of the customer. Customers can compare favorites side-by-side and share via email or text to get trusted style advice from loved ones who weren’t able to come with them due to social distancing.

Speeding up frame discovery will be critical to creating a quicker, more efficient customer journey that enables retailers and ECPs to safely see more customers.  It also minimizes the amount of time spent on sanitizing frames overall.


6. Shift Towards Digital

Covid-19 has accelerated the importance for Eyewear Retailers and ECPs to have both a strong telehealth offering and a strong eCommerce site. It’s also important to connect online and store experiences to get additional efficiencies out of both channels.

Across the board, our client eyewear brands and eyewear retailers are seeing a large bump in additional eCommerce traffic. Ditto helps eyewear retailers and ECPs take advantage of this increase in traffic.

Ditto’s eCommerce Solutions include Face Insights, Frame Recommendations, and Try-On technology that enable customers to shop confidently at home. This dramatically drives conversions up and returns down.

For customers who need an appointment or want to purchase in stores, you can shift frame discovery online to streamline the in-store experience. Options include:

Speeding up frame discovery by using favorited frames from their online session.
Pre-pulling and disinfecting those favorites options so a tray is ready when they come in.
Drive-up service where you run the pre-pulled and disinfected frames to their car.

You can also save the customer’s Try-On and Frame Recommendations from the Ditto Store iPad App experience and enable them to access it again online. This omnichannel experience helps reduce the time needed for a great store experience and ensures you retain customers who might not be willing to come in at all until they’re vaccinated from COVID-19.


Finding Your New Normal

The world has changed, so we’ve evolved the optical retail experience to be safer and quicker for everyone.  If you are interested in learning how Ditto can help you create a new customer journey to support your reopening efforts, or help you start or improve your eCommerce experience, please contact us for a demo.


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