Buying glasses should not make you roll your eyes. It also shouldn’t make your eyes widen in disbelief at the price.
Enter the eyecare industry disruptors. These are people who have caught a vision of a better, simpler, and less expensive way to purchase eyewear. They are creating companies to promote their ideas; they are using social media to introduce these ideas; they are making a disruption in the industry that is scattering traditional ways of doing business.
And it’s all for the best of the consumer.
One of the trademarks of the eyecare industry disruptors is the breakdown of geography. By using current technology, consumers are not limited to a place for a vision exam or to purchase eyewear. Smartphones and the Internet open up possibilities that never existed before. Instead of going to an optical store to look at hundreds of frames, consumers can sit at a computer and view thousands of them. Add to that try-on technology in the comfort of home and the traditional business model doesn’t look so good anymore.
Most interesting about the eyecare industry disruptors is the fact that their vision extends worldwide. The viability of any change in a business model can be measured in the level of acceptance across a wide audience. Internationally, these disruptors are making inroads in areas that are diverse in culture, yet common in a desire to affect change in an industry that needs reform.
A look at some of these international industry disruptors will reveal a common thread of placing the purchasing power into the consumer’s hands. These companies offer new business models with some unique ideas. The end result is an industry that will be better able to address the real needs of consumers.
Industry disruptors are problem solvers. To succeed, they need a problem to fix.
The problem is numbers. For the first time, India is dealing with an aging population as well as a large one. As the country grew, so did the life expectancy. In 2015, the World Health Organization reported India’s life expectancy to be 68 years of age. In the 1990s, it was only 58 years.
This affects all aspects of the eyecare industry from prescriptions, to medical treatment, to corrective eyewear. Change is needed to more efficiently reach the many people who need it.
Consumers deal with a few different vision problems. As people get older, there is a greater likelihood their eyesight will weaken. There has also been an increase in instances of myopia. These people need corrective lenses to maintain their quality of life.
Many unchecked vision problems can progress into vision loss which is indeed what happens here. India has the largest population of blind people in the world. The market even reflects this. The biggest sectors of the eyecare industry here all deal with conditions which relate to blindness: cataracts, retinal disease, and glaucoma.
India’s problem is a lack of doctors to provide preventative vision care. Due to government regulations and insufficient training programs, India has only about one-third of the eye doctors it needs to provide care to all the people. But if the doctors are busy treating patients with glaucoma and cataracts, they just don’t have the time or resources to see the patient who just needs glasses. That patient who didn’t get to see the doctor goes without vision correction until it severely impairs their sight and the cycle continues.
This is the place the disruptors enter the market. Eyecare industry disruptors around the world share one common goal: accessibility to the consumer. They want their product to reach the people and areas left untouched by the largest companies.
Winkk addresses the frustration many people feel when trying to purchase eyeglasses. Only after navigating the frame selection and confusing lens upgrades with the “help” of a pushy employee does the customer learn the price of the eyeglasses.
They set out to offer frames that are both trendy and cost-effective. What is Winkk’s contribution to transparency in the eyecare industry? Their eyeglasses have a listed price which includes the prescription lenses. Offering frames that are both affordable and fashionable gives the consumer purchasing power and reduces the number of people going without vision correction due to a confusing sales experience.
Glassic was founded after learning the reason the eyewear market was so confusing and overpriced. Over 80 percent of the market was being controlled by a single supply chain, from manufacture to sale. The founders of Glassic are able to keep their prices reasonable by making their glasses in-house and cutting out the retailer by selling through their own website.
A few creative solutions allowed them to overcome the concerns of not being able to see yourself in the frames first and the unclear lens options. A virtual try-on which uses the customer’s webcam creates an experience just like testing frames in-person. Glassic addresses the lens selection issue with a unique algorithm which suggests lenses after the customer selects their power, ensuring the product they buy is their best option. This algorithm also eliminates the navigation of lens types as well as the price variation between different opticians.
Lenskart expands on convenience of shopping for glasses. By offering a vision exam at home, the consumer is not only able to get a lens prescription, but this keeps an optician free to care for a patient with more immediate issues. Certain areas are eligible for a home visit to try on frames. An employee brings 100 frame options and helps the customer with their purchase.
These innovative companies prove the power of a creative idea to change the status quo, create solutions, and assure the consumer that they made a good investment.
Three factors contributed to the eyecare industry disruption in Latin America: a growing population, a steady increase of people requiring vision correction, and runaway inflationary rate on eyewear. The first two factors seemed to point to a steady volume of consumers, but the rising retail cost of eyewear made them postpone or cancel purchases.
The traditional business model has merely assumed that a steady customer base equals steady sales. While this may be accurate to an extent, consumers have become more cost-savvy and will not purchase a product if they feel their best interests have not been realized.
Eyecare industry disruptors saw this and reacted by offering more cost-effective choices. In Latin America, this was done by two primary methods: acquisitions and partnerships.
For example, Luxottica, the eyewear superpower, increased their distribution by acquiring retailers. Having retail-ready locations for their manufactured products builds a strong competitive edge and gives consumers a network of locations to purchase eyewear.
Partnerships have a similar strategy but balance the power differently. Chilli Beans, the major retailer of sunglasses in Latin America, partnered with GoECart to run the e-commerce side of their business. This type of industry disruption embraces the technology that is available and makes product selection more accessible.
Yet, the eyecare industry disruptors in Latin America are not looking to just take over the competition, they are in the business with long-range and innovative goals. Lema21, the “Warby Parker” of Brazil, sells private label frames directly to consumers. They compete with designer brands, which are made in the same Chinese factories as their own products. The difference is a much lower price, averaging about $100.
But Lema21 didn’t stop with the monetary benefit; they added a virtual try-on tool and a home trial that ships four different frames to consumers. Now, people can shop conveniently, have choices, and save money. The industry disruptors listened to the consumers, made changes in the business model, and everyone walks away happy.
European consumers are welcoming the eyecare industry disruptors. In Germany, consumers are buying glasses online at an increasing rate, while industry experts predict an even bigger growth in this venue of sales.
Industry disruptors are responding to consumer concerns about buying eyewear online: the lack of an optician to provide advice when making a purchase. This can be remedied through a variety of means. Try-on technology and an easier return policy are ways to give consumers more confidence. Social media, blogs, and forums can connect customers to style experts both within and outside of the industry. All of these things contribute to a better buying experience.
Eyecare industry disruptors will concentrate on these issues since most consumers have stated that they are very satisfied with the lower costs of purchasing glasses online. Price is an overriding factor in consumer appeal and industry disruptors will continue to refine the entire process, stressing the personalization of each sale.
In France, Paul Morlet, the founder of Lunettes Pour Tous (Glasses for All), is making a bold claim: get a pair of glasses for 10 euros in 10 minutes. His democratic approach to making glasses both affordable and accessible is shaking up the core of the industry in this country. The basic idea is for consumers to buy glasses and leave with them the same day.
His business model is basic with lower prices, reduced markups, and large volume sales. His marketing strategy includes educating consumers about the high profits opticians enjoy as they sell glasses that are cheaply made in China. Truth-telling is a large part of the eyecare industry disruption strategy since no consumer wants to feel taken advantage of.
Throughout Europe, these same principles are steering the eyewear industry into new ways to do business. Cost, choice, and convenience are the keywords that consumers use, and industry disruptors are providing real solutions in these areas. While each country may have varying measures of progress in the disruption phase, industry experts see a steady increase of consumer confidence in purchasing eyewear online.
Technology and transparency in the eyecare industry is forever changing the view (and the resulting purchasing power) of consumers.
A trademark of industry disruptors is their lack of boundaries, either physical or creative. Japan-based Jins Eyewear perfectly captures this element of being a disruptor. Crossing borders and collaborating with tech, fashion, and business allow this company to make headlines.
Although they were unknown in the US, they operated over 300 stores overseas Japan and China. So why open a flagship store in San Francisco, California? Because the trendy city is a great fit for their brand of eyewear that is fashionable and tech-savvy. Young, progressive cities are like a magnet for industry disruptors because they are full of the kind of adventurous consumers which startups need to succeed.
The technology allowing them to disrupt is Kanna, their in-house eyeglass manufacturing robot. Having a lens lab right in the store means not only are the materials sourced directly from the company, the manufacturing is too. Really embracing the concept of controlling the whole supply chain to keep costs down also results in the fast wait time between selecting and taking home a new pair of glasses. The Jins experience is going home with a pair of glasses for only $120 and 30 minutes of time. In San Francisco. The low cost enables their fashion-savvy consumer to have multiple pairs quickly and inexpensively.
The Jins flagship store has another unique collaboration: a fellow disruptor. 20/20 Now, who offer vision tests through video-conference, rents space in the back of the store. If you add an inexpensive refraction to your trip to Jins, you can still leave your visit with a new prescription and a new pair of glasses for under $200. Again, this is San Francisco.
The most important goal of industry disruptors is creating transparency. Regardless of the problems the eyeglass market faces, information is what leads to solutions. Overpriced eyeglasses and consumers who are kept in the dark about their true cost is a problem worldwide.
Eyecare industry disruptors are creating solutions. The fact that they are all working towards fixing the same problems shows the issues the market faces are due to the distribution model rather than their physical location.
The future of this industry rests in the vision of these disruptors.
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Industry disruptors challenge traditional approaches in decisive ways; their independent thinking removes obstacles and replaces them with optimistic and effective solutions.
Disruptive technology is changing the eyecare industry. Innovations are reshaping the core of this business while restoring consumer confidence. Disruptors have followed a steady progression that has encompassed several key ideas.
Recognizing the need for change within the eyecare industry and coupling that with available technology began the course of disruptive innovations. Three main factors were addressed by the early disruptors: cost, convenience, and accessibility.
Traditionally, eye exams and eyewear had a prohibitive cost for many people. Industry disruptors used technology and innovative product development and procurement to lower the cost and keep the quality.
Convenience is a sought-after commodity in today’s busy world and eyecare industry disruptors made the exams and purchase of glasses and contact lenses easy. Smart Vision Labs, for instance, has a 5-minute vision exam (no appointment necessary) that can determine if corrective eyewear is needed. A prescription is generated and a secure online portal holds the patient’s information. Convenience encourages and motivates consumers and is a hallmark of change that disruptors bring to industries.
Accessibility takes the idea of convenience one step further by bringing eye care to everyone. Rural areas benefit, as well as the house-bound or anyone either physically or mentally unable to go for traditional vision exams. Eyewear can be purchased online and delivered to the door. All of these things make people more inclined to take an active part in their eyes’ health.
Who Are the Vision Industry Disruptors and How Do They Disrupt the Eyecare Industry?
The disruptive companies are creating solutions to long-standing industry problems. Specifically, they have been targeting areas of eye care and eyewear. Creating connections using the Internet rather than in-person introduces opportunities to reach new consumers.
Some of these innovative companies work toward making vision care available for everyone, regardless of their financial situation or physical location. In addition to the Internet, advancements in laser technology and the prevalence of smartphones assist these eyecare industry disruptors in providing another option to the status quo.
Opternative uses a smartphone and computer to offer an at-home vision test. In less than 25 minutes, the consumer gets a signed prescription to shop for their eyewear anywhere they like.
EyeQue’s Personal Vision Tracker uses an optical miniscope which works with a smartphone application to deliver your prescription. In addition to storing the results in the cloud, the app also tracks vision history and has customizable notifications about things from health reminders to current eyewear trends.
Eyenetra offers Blink, an at-home vision test performed by a trained technician. The “Visioneers” collect the person’s health history and use the Blink devices to perform a vision test before sending the results to a licensed optometrist within their network.
PUPIL has a free at-home vision test where the technician will also bring different frames for the consumer to try out. If they find something they like, they will have their glasses that same week.
20/20 Now uses HD video conferencing to get the client from exam to prescription in 15 minutes or less.
PlenOptika created QuickSee, a handheld autorefractor. This innovation came about specifically for places where glasses are very inexpensive but there is a lack of doctors to prescribe them. QuickSee allows doctors to work more efficiently, see more patients, and get them the proper vision correction.
Smart Vision Labs pushes the boundary of vision care further while setting the standard for convenience. Their 5-Minute Vision Exam uses technology similar to LASIK to create accurate prescriptions quickly. The consumer doesn’t even need to schedule an appointment.
Other innovative companies work to disrupt the fashion side of the eyecare industry, which has been forcing unknowing consumers to purchase their vision correction from the established leaders. Glasses and contact lenses are both affected by this problem but disruptors are working to change it. The benefit of affordable and accessible vision testing is diminished if the consumer can’t afford frames or be able to replace their contacts routinely.
1-800 Contacts was the first online retailer offering contact lenses. They have grown into the world’s largest contact lens store. The high volume they work with means they are the most likely to have exactly what the consumer is shopping for and at a low price.
On the eyeglass front, Zenni Optical began by offering low-cost frames and lenses. For under $9, you could get a complete pair of glasses, frames included.
Warby Parker disrupted the industry by making new ways to connect with the consumer. Being able to see how frames look, either virtually or through their Home Try-On, invites customers to take an active part in the buying process. These innovations, in addition to connecting through social media, really resonated with their target audience of young adults, proving they are a viable market.
Eponym provides a venue for smaller fashion companies to break into the eyeglass market.
Frameri builds on the online glasses market by trying something new: interchangeable lenses. Their lenses can pop-out of one frame and into another. This encourages people to try out new styles or change up their appearance easily without purchasing another lens.
Timing the Disruption
Eyecare industry disruptors know when it’s time to ‘better the business.’ Changes, of any type, are most effective when certain conditions appear.
Information and technology are the two elements that move disruptions from the idea stage to full implementation. Industry disruptors have pinpointed the areas for change and developed a strategy. Yet, to actually bring this innovative thinking into the industry requires the collective consciousness of consumers.
Information begins the disruption.
The eyecare industry has a secret or two. They have been pairing with vision insurance providers and retail eyewear manufacturers. This has created an uneven flow of money. People with vision insurance feel obligated to use that benefit but when they do, they are directed to in-network providers for both the exams and the eyewear.
The secret is that the consumer has other, more beneficial, options than their coverage suggests. Vision insurance has traditionally created a conduit for the consumer to receive eye exams and corrective products. Eyecare industry disruptors are offering choices that bring the power back to the consumer. This is done by comparing the options.
The insurance-priced versus the direct-priced methods show a significant monetary difference. A consumer paying directly for a vision exam or corrective eyewear can see a price drop of at least 50%.
The price change reflects information that creates transparency in the eyecare industry. When consumers see the actual cost of products and services, the idea of vision insurance does not seem so beneficial. Disruptors have seen the artificial inflation that has permeated this industry and have a plan to bring real options to the consumer.
Technology helps to not only spread this information but it also provides access to exams and products in a cost-effective and convenient way.
Smartphones can be used for vision exams, and cloud-based technology can send and store patient information. Try-on software can make buying frames easier and 3D printing can create custom looks for consumers.
Information paired with technology uncovers secrets and creates solutions. Disruptions give power to the people.
Eyecare industry disruptors see the need for change and offer real solutions.
Where are the Disruptions Taking Place?
That’s the best part about the eyecare industry disruptors—they are making changes everywhere.
The disruptive technology can be accessed from any location. There are no geographic boundaries that limit the spread of information and innovations that are reshaping the eyecare business. Rural communities benefit as well as those in large metropolitan areas. These disruptions are removing geography as a factor in maintaining eye health.
But physical location is only part of the ‘place’ where the disruption is occurring. The mind is another vital location where the industry disruptors are making their presence known. Consumers are getting knowledge about how vision insurance has created an option to maintain eye health at a cost to the very people they seek to help. That cost is monetary but also comes with a loss of personal freedom.
Being directed to certain places for vision exams or to purchase eyewear limits choices. When there is no competition in an industry only a few companies set the price. Consumers know that the price of corrective glasses and frames is very high, yet the actual cost of this product is not.
Eyecare industry disruptors put price and cost in their proper places to benefit the consumers.
When a disruption is taking place in an industry, it will never be business as usual. And that’s a very good thing.
The eyecare industry has maintained a status quo existence for a long time, so why should we welcome these industry disruptors now?
The single word answer would be ‘motivation.’ These eyecare industry disruptors are motivated to change a business that has become stagnant and cost-prohibitive. By embracing and using current technology, the business of eye health can—and should—have a fresh new look. And that will positively impact every consumer.
Disruptive technology is currently in place to address real needs and concerns. Consumers already understand the value of vision exams and using prescription eyewear if needed. However, what they don’t understand is the inconvenience and prohibitive costs associated with this industry.
Eyecare industry disruptors do understand. They have technology in place to bring the vision exam to the patient, whether it’s a rural area or a place that doesn’t require such a stringent time frame. Patients do not want to schedule a vision test around their work or school schedule. Time is valuable to them.
Disruptors believe in transparency in the cost of eyewear which is another huge concern to consumers. Price and cost have not been fully explained to consumers and therefore, the traditional industry method of distribution has favored the manufacturers. Disruptors challenge the current business model and invite the purchasing power of the consumer to come alongside them.
But perhaps the biggest innovation that eyecare industry disruptors bring is the power of choice.
They recognize that change needs to be implemented to address the valid concerns of consumers. They use disruptive technology to create a new industry standard. They form innovative companies that not only herald the change but spearhead the movement.
The result is an improved vision for the eyecare industry and one that is motivated to connect consumers to more affordable ways to care for their eyes.
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