Leading up to the year 2020 the Optical industry was feeling good. ‘2020’ seemed to be a positive omen for us and we were in full swing looking toward a more stabilised future than that of the last few years. None of us would have expected to be in the uncertain position we are in now.
2020 has fast become the year we want to forget – and we’re only half way through. Australia is now starting to slowly move back into the workplace. Over the last 8 or so weeks it has been a real mixture of who’s closed the doors, who’s stayed open and what services have been available. It’s been tough.
There’s no guide for this kind of pandemic, no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to handle your business, and most of us can’t wait to get back into our practices and start doing what we love again.
But is our industry going to be the same?
As we look to head back in store Owners, Managers and staff alike are feeling anxious about the landscape we are walking back into. We are in our industry because we are passionate about helping people, but almost overnight what that means has shifted. Our customers are now going to be much more health conscious and health aware, meaning we may see a rise in requests for eye examinations more often, OR patients may take the opposite view and avoid medical appointments unless extremely necessary. We also know that COVID-19 has greatly impacted people’s financial situations and livelihoods, which is going to affect their spending habits and priorities.
If the last few months have taught us anything about our industry, I’d like to suggest that its’ our ability to adapt, and that we need to be available for our consumers online. Facebook and Instagram have been a great tool for practices to communicate to their customers, as well as for Wholesalers to keep in touch with their accounts. Those that are social media savvy have been able to keep up to date knowledge available, and stay relevant throughout any closures. Those businesses who don’t have this area of communication sorted will have seen a decline in customer interaction and be less at the front of consumers minds when they re-open. Just an observation worth spending a minute to ponder on I think 😉
Re-opening our stores brings us back the ‘need vs want’ discussion. Those of us with practices are based in the medical field, but are also impacted by retail spending habits. Of course this flows through to our suppliers, wholesalers and manufacturers too. There’s no way of telling how our customers are going to react to the new landscape until we are open and talking to them again. Our customers NEED eye care, eye health advice and all of their eyewear needs met. What they don’t need, is ‘all of the extra’s’. This is where our opportunity lies. It’s always been extremely important and part of our role to explain to our customers what they need on an individual basis. Post COVID-19, this is going to be the key in getting our customers back in store, purchasing what they need, and understanding their spending in our industry. This is what will make them feel comfortable in our stores and trust us as medical professionals.
As businesses we need to reconsider both WHAT we are communicating to our patients and customers, and HOW. Staff and team moral is also more important now and the focus should be on each practice having a very clear understanding of what the business’ approach is. Is your focus on brand names or quality locally owned products? Are you expecting customers to just order the lenses thieve had in the past or will you need to explain each individual benefit to ensure the customer sees the value in your recommendations and their purchase? And wholesalers, how are you going to adapt to support your account’s changing needs?
Our Industry, like many others are going to open our doors into changed buying habits that’s for sure. Do we need to do anything different? Yes. Does anyone know exactly what that is? No way! As I mentioned earlier, there is no book to help guide us through this, and what works for one practice may not work for another around the corner, let alone in another state or country.
The businesses that are going to not only survive the economic hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic are those who are flexible, accommodating and willing to adapt to a more health conscious and money-savvy customer. Know your identity, know your place in the community and stick by it 120%. If you open the doors with a staff base that is concerned and confused about how best to act in this situation, that’s exactly how your customers will feel too.
There’s no telling how we will be situated in another 3 months or even a year due to COVID-19, but those businesses who can take this as a chance to show adaptability and strength will make it through. 2020 is still our year, we just need to take a step back and see it as an opportunity to grow.
The Eyewear Girl x
This post was originally written and published for New Zealand Optics