Selling Online: Next Steps

An e-commerce website can help you retain customers who might otherwise shop around for contact lenses and accessories, but it is more complex to set up a new site than you might think. Dr Kuki Hundal is co-founder of Opticommerce and a practising ophthalmologist. Having been an owner of optical practices is the past, he saw that the internet was going to play a major role in the independent optometry sector and so developed the OptiCommerce platform with business partner Paul Clare, an expert in eCommerce system development.

If you want a new website with more interaction and functionality, Paul says, “You need a site to attract people who are looking for specific services, even for your competitors. It should lead them into being able to book an appointment, and buy products too.” Kuki points out a danger for practice owners in commissioning a new website: “If you think we will ‘build it and they will come’ you may be in for a shock. Only the people who are looking for you will do this.”

What’s more, you may miss the people who are searching for opticians in the area, those who want a contact lens expert, or those who are specifically searching for new frames or contact lenses. Paul Clare explains how to avoid this trap: “People shop around, they don’t buy from the first site they find. Your website can be the face of your business on the web, but you need to think of it as a relationship tool. It is the place where new relationships start. Thinking like this leads you to develop a different site.”

So, what a new website could do for your business? Kuki says, “Most practices want a site to help them attract new patients and position them as the go-to independent practice for the area. If you don’t understand about forming a relationship with patients your site may look good but won’t work.” Paul adds, “The words on your site are crucial, and you need to design the layout with lead generation in mind.”

Lead generation means using your website to gather contact details from people who are interested in your services. You need a compelling offer that makes them sign up. First though, Kuki says, “Your site must load up quickly. Secondly, you must have a mobile responsive site. Then, you have to keep people on your site.” This allows them to find something of interest. He continues, “Make your phone number and email prominent. Eye tracking software demonstrates people look top left, centre, and top right of a website, and that’s why most sites are similar – logo at top left, contact top right, and in the centre perhaps a face and some words. All of the important information on a website must go above the fold: the headline, image, a video, a special offer or form to fill in. Follow those principles and you will engineer a lead generative website.”

Then, you need to consider what offer will compel people to share personal details with you. Kuki says, “People rarely buy the first time they visit a site. Make a powerful offer on the homepage to encourage them to share their details with you. If they are looking for an expert contact lens practitioner, have a video on the site that shows your expertise. Search engines love videos on the homepage so your rankings go up.” If you get a lead you need to nurture that lead, through emails and texts highlighting how your practice can meet the person’s needs.

Rob Eastwood, dispensing optician at Scartho Eyecare, Grimsby, has created a new site for the practice. It allows patients to book online and buy products. Rob says, “We wanted to be found by people who are Googling for opticians in Grimsby. We give them the option to book an appointment, join VIP club, go on Facebook or Twitter.” The VIP Club gives website browsers the incentive to share their details with the practice. Rob says, “VIP patients get to know when all the new frames, lens and contact lens products arrive, we do VIP only discounts and specials over the year. For us, we have a list of interested patients who want to know about our new products and we can contact them for free via email. It’s a win-win.”

He continues, “We created the site using Wix. You just put your content in and they deal with changes in HTML protocols, for example.” Rob and the team at Scartho Eyecare considered whether patients would benefit from an online shop. He says, “We have a couple of patients who reside in Grimsby but, being retired, go to visit family. They telephoned to ask us to mail the eyelid wipes that they normally buy from us, while pointing out that it would have been easier to buy them online.” The new site, which stocks sunglasses and various eyedrops and treatments, gives patients the choice of click and collect, or free local or national delivery, subject to a minimum purchase.

Rob says, “We decided against having frames and contact lenses online: spectacles are a bespoke order and we would prefer to dispense face-to-face. We might think about click and collect for contact lenses in the future, but the vast majority of patients are on a direct debit scheme.”

If you are daunted by the thought of offering online booking, don’t panic. More and more practice management software programmes offer a seamless way for patients to select appointments and book direct. Rob says, “Our practice management system does it all, so all I needed to do was put the link on the website: that’s been one of the easiest things to do. If you are sending reminders through email and a link to ‘book my appointment now’ they can do it there and then. We have found that a lot of people book online during the day, not just when we’re closed.”

Texts can also help you build your relationship with your patients, and build your business. Dolores Marshall, owner of Dolores Marshall Opticians Carlisle, uses a free text messaging service, Textlocal, which sends reminders to patients using existing patient data. Dolores says, “Appointment ‘no shows’ can have a big impact on the business, wasting valuable testing time and creating lots of admin. We also spend time every day contacting people about their glasses and contact lenses and so I needed a simple and quick contact system. It’s clear that texting is the most efficient way of doing so. It has had transformative effects on my business and my customers are happier too.”

The SMS platform has helped to increase the practice’s revenue and staff have noticed an increase in responses to recalls and a significant decrease in the number of patients not turning up to appointments. The practice has seen an increase in customer satisfaction, with feedback proving that patients are happier because they can be updated through all stages of their eyecare cycle.

Paul Clare advocates integrating your website with your practice management system. He says, “It’s not just better for patients: it saves staff time. It is time-consuming when people call up to make an appointment or order lenses. Now, you can allow patients to login and reorder contact lenses to the correct prescription. Our system only allows patients to do this if they have had a check-up within the right time period.” However, Paul warns, “Practices that don’t allow existing patients to do this can lose out to online stores. Young people are less focused on the health aspect. If your site doesn’t offer that functionality it is a turn off.”

He continues, “For existing patients, drive people to your site through reminder emails and text. If you have a site with a contact lens shop, connected to your payment gateway, add a button, ‘Click here to reorder your contact lenses’, and it can send the patient through to the site with their lenses in their basket. No phone call, the person can do it at 8pm on Saturday night and they don’t have to wait until you’re open.”

Summing up, Paul says, “We call it omni-channel. Put the patient at the centre and give them every way they can to connect with you at their convenience.”