It was interesting to read some of the comments when we ran our Free Nites At Vision Expo. Quite a few eyecare professionals were interested in selling online, not how to compete against online sellers, but how to set up and sell their products online. It just goes to show you how fast things can change in our industry.
Over the years, we have spoken with quite a few ECP’s about opening up an online shop and quite frankly there have been quite a few that have and then let it go, because it is ALOT of work. In fact to make it profitable, you have to work this like you would any other job.
In evaluating a list of over 300 online eyewear companies that I would consider ‘gone’, over 90% of them did not make it beyond the first 2 years. When I say gone, they have not updated their website, no updates on Facebook and Twitter for over 6 months, little activity on Instagram and have not responded to email requests.
Before you start the process of considering opening selling online there are several things to consider aside from having the wherewithall to sell online?
- Are you an entrepenuer and willing to be available 24/7 to make it work?
- Do you have a business plan?
- Do you have access to a decent camera or photographer to upload pictures
- Are you willing to manage both a website and social media? Despite the fact that you can purchase though social media, a website is crucial.
- Do you have the time to social media eyes your website? Need to be managing Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Add in Pinterest and work them daily.
- What type of product are you going to sell? Your own products that you stock in your store? Private Label. Sunglasses, accessories, readers, RX lenses.
- Should your mark up be the same as your in-store? Will you offer a promo code for purchasing online?
- Editorial: Who is going to write the product descriptions? If doing eyewear, should you have an RX option?
- Editorial: Should you have a blog, who will write and maintain it? Blogs are great for SEO, but they are work.
- Editorial: Will you do a newsletter, which is important in online sales.
- What is your story, why are you in business ?
- Database Marketing: Who is going to start and maintain and capture a ‘prospect’ and buyer database? That takes time as well to maintain and grow.
- Being online you have to take back returns and not only that, credit and PayPal assure that you do. Are you willing to deal with that?
- Should you open a separate web site? Use Word press, Shopify, sell on ebay, Amazon, Etsy, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest? What is the best system for you?
- Who will work the system(s), ship and engage with consumers? Do you have someone that can work this on a regular basis?
- Who will be in charge of customer service? Should you have a live chat?
- Who is your competition?
- How are you going to SEO? Optimize the site? Do you have an IT person that can be on call 24/7. It is guaranteed your site will be hacked or your server will be hacked .
- Are you going to advertise? What type of budget? How are you going to reach your buyers?
- What is your branding plan?
- Where are you going to stock product? Can you drop ship? Will you need special coding?
- Should you do an affiliate program with some products?
- What type of payment will you use, PayPal, American Express, Visa, MC, google, Apple?
- What about shipping? Shipping is a lost leader, and most sites today offer free shipping.
- Are you willing to discount, ECP’s have usually been opposed to discounting, coupons and marking down product, are you willing to act as a retailer rather than an eyecare professional?
- How are you going to build a community?
- How much will you have to sell to break even?
- The internet is 24/7 and they expect you to be 24/7. Are you willing to do that?
- How and who is going to track and monitor your site?
Maybe it is just me, but if I purchase online, I want to know about the company, I want to see that they are engaged online and responding to requests and issues.
The trend is there for shopping online and it is easier to do than ever before. To be profitable, it is still is a 40 hour a week job. Granted you can do in PJ’s and your garage, but it still is work.
Bottom line: Be Patient an online store is like a brick and mortar it can take 1-3 years for it to be profitable. You can’t let discouragement and returns affect your goals. Don’t give up.
Examples of Eyecare Professionals Selling online
Axon Migraine Glasses : Stared by neuro-ophthalmologist, photonics researcher, and ophthalmic entrepreneur. Sells via website, Amazon, Online Chat.
Family Eyeglasses (Florida) Another great site with lots of discounting.
Frames Direct (Texas) started by two ODS’s in 1996 and bought by Essilor in 2010. 28,800+ Likes on Facebook.
Frame Punk: (Germany) Optical shop with online 3D shop.
Replace a Lens (Denver, CO) Lense replacement only and has a store in Denver.
See Saw Seen (San Francisco, CA) Owned by an optometrist, Virtual Try on, all around great site.
For those who think that online frames are cheap and always have to be discounted, check out these suppliers:
Anna Karin Karlsson (Sweden) luxury eyewear line that sells to eyecare professionals, high end boutiques and online. Retails up to $1000.
Lewis Fredericks (New Zealand) Buffalo Horn, sells online and has stocklists .
Linda Farrow (UK) Luxury eyewear and sunwear company that sells online, through their store locations, at optical trades show and eyecare professionals. Up to $1500 USA online.