Attracting Eyeballs to Eyeglasses and Closing the Sale

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How are the leading optical e-tailers attracting the eyewear-buying public to their websites, and what techniques are they using to convert those eyeballs into eyeglass purchases? Beyond the basics of search engine optimization (both paid and natural), affiliate marketing and sending e-mail alerts to regular customers, the technological and marketing savvy sites are employing a combination of traditional media and internet marketing with some good new-fashioned publicity-grabbing attention getting thrown in to shake things up.

Social Eyes
Considering that it’s a short click from social media to an e-tailer’s web page, it’s no surprise that Facebook, Twitter and other similar sites are among the more prominent ways in which online optical retailers are generating traffic. Among the most effective is Coastal.com, according to Internet Retailer, which ranked the site at number three in its 2013 Social Media 300. Coastal.com generated approximately 25 percent of its search traffic from social media sources, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube, the third highest percentage in the e-commerce market, according to the social media ranking.

 
 Coastal generated approximately 25 percent of its search traffic from social media sources, the third highest percentage in the e-commerce market.

“The importance of social media is on the rise as we create a community of Coastal.com users and they, in turn, generate further content about our products and how they feel about Coastal.com,” said Aaron Magness, Coastal.com’s vice president of marketing. “With more than 900,000 ‘likes’ or ‘friends’ the effect has gone viral and is a key piece of our marketing strategy going forward.”

“Ultimately, social media is a valuable tool for business as it results in lower customer acquisition costs as our customers become our sales force,” said Coastal’s founder and CEO, Roger Hardy.

Many other online eyeglass e-tailers are also tapping the power of Facebook and Twitter to bring buyers to their pages. One common technique is encouraging those participating in at-home try-on programs to share pictures of themselves on these and other social media sites.

Like many optical e-tailers, Lookmatic.com is also using blogs in addition to social media to generate traffic. The site is currently running a promotion where it partners with local culture blogs to run giveaways. Fans can enter with theoretical raffle tickets generated by posting and sharing the information about the promotion, whether on Twitter, Facebook or in an e-mail, with a link to the website/promotion. Among the local blogs it is currently partnering with are Brokelyn in Brooklyn and PopVille in Washington, D.C.

Media Darlings
With articles appearing regularly in the consumer media and business press, Warby Parker has proven to be a master at public relations and made its founders celebrities in the entrepreneurial community. Since four Wharton School classmates launched the company in 2010 with $1.5 million in seed money to begin selling eyeglasses online for $95 a pair, the company has grown to well over 100 employees. It raised an additional $37.5 million in funding in 2012, but left time for additional investors, which included among them American Express and the CEO of J. Crew, when funding closed at $41.5 million in January of this year, according to The New York Times.


 

 Television advertising and a cross-country “Class Trip” are two of the many unique ways Warby Parker drives traffic to its website.
The idiosyncratic marketing ploys that Warby Parker has used to garner attention have included “launching” a line of eyewear for dogs called Warby Barker on April Fool’s Day, its Class Trip in which a real school bus renovated to look like a library is bringing its showroom on the road to nine U.S. cities in six months, and uniquely designed annual reports featuring figures that traditional businesses would never report.

According to Warby Parker’s 2012 annual report, the company has given away more than 250,000 pairs of glasses to people in need since its founding. Combining its “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” policy of providing a pair to someone in need for every pair of glasses the company sells with its price point of $95 per pair, without stating it explicitly, the annual report does imply a rough estimate of revenue generated since the company’s founding at approximately $23,750,000.

Tapping into that revenue plus its millions in funding, the company even produced a television commercial for broadcast to select markets, a technique unique to eyewear companies in general, let alone e-tailers. Glasses.com, the online eyeglass site affiliated with 1-800 CONTACTS, has also started to run TV spots this year in a range of markets and media.

Mobile Optimization
With the proliferation of consumers using tablets and smartphones to browse as well as to purchase products online, eyeglass e-tailers are taking steps toward optimizing the shopping experience on these devices. Internet Retailer reports that online spending via portable devices such as smartphones and tablets was up 46 percent year over year in the fourth quarter of 2012, and that shopping on tablets alone has increased 11 percent from the third quarter of 2012 to the fourth quarter of 2012, and 37 percent since the fourth quarter of 2011.

In response, optical e-tailers are making sure that eyeglass shoppers’ browsing and buying experiences are equally effective across all devices. For example, Coastal.com found that visitors coming to the website from iPhones and other mobile devices were not converting to sales as often as the company would have liked, according to Braden Hoeppner, vice president of web sales. Investing in a customer-friendly mobile website through the Mobify interface resulted in double digit growth in both mobile traffic and mobile revenue.

“Over the last five years, we’ve seen the percentage of overall traffic go from single digits to 20 percent to 30 percent per day on mobile,” said Hoeppner. “From an e-commerce perspective, for years we focused on what the site looks like on a normal desktop browser. Within a couple of years, that has changed to catering to shoppers in a lean-back mode on the couch while watching TV.” Now, Coastal’s site recognizes what device is being used and modifies the website on the fly.

While Coastal does not disclose its specific sales figures related to devices, Hoeppner did indicate that sales conversion rates can be device dependent. “Conversion rates on some devices are similar or better than on a desktop, and on some devices they are lower,” he said, ultimately working toward getting certain devices to convert at the same rate as a desktop. “For us, the goal is to ensure that the experience they have with us as a company is consistent and enabled on all devices,” Hoeppner concluded.

Managed Care
Emerges Online

Discount programs and insurance plans are taking their first baby steps onto the internet, and VSP, a leader in the vision benefits realm, is venturing onto the web as well. Eyeconic.com, an online eyewear store for VSP Vision Care members and providers, now allows VSP members to buy single vision prescription glasses (between +4.50 and -4.50) online. For final inspection, verification and dispensing, glasses are sent directly to the eyecare professional, who gets paid for the purchase.

VSP conducted a test that allowed company employees to use their VSP benefits online. “VSP Global employees provided valuable insights that helped us improve the online user experience as well as the seamless integration with their VSP doctors,” a VSP spokesperson told Vision Monday.

 
 VSP’s Eyeconic allows customers to shop for eyeglasses online while ensuring that they are dispensed by an eyecare professional.
Currently, testing is underway with three small VSP Vision Care clients who are offering their employees the ability to use their vision benefit online. “The purpose of the test is to ensure that the concept of keeping patients who prefer to shop online connected to their VSP network doctors is valid and that the systems supporting the site work,” the VSP spokesperson said. “We also talked to a small group of doctors with patients participating in the test.”

Here’s what Eagle Vision Care Optometric Group of Sacramento, Calif., had to say: “By using Eyeconic, our patient can order from the convenience of their home, utilizing their family’s input and opinions, and they also still get to have the professional optician experience at the time of pick up.”

Since the launch of Eyeconic in 2011, both VSP members and non-members could use the website to buy contact lenses, browse eyewear and sunwear and find a VSP doctor. Now, members can buy prescription eyeglasses on the site, and the company is looking toward allowing for the use of benefits online as well. If this test were to lead to all 56 million VSP members using VSP benefits to purchase contact lenses and prescription eyeglasses on eyeconic.com, that would be the most far-reaching and dramatic influence of managed vision care in the online space.

On a much smaller scale, other websites are offering their own versions of optical insurance for purchasing eyewear over the internet. GlassesUSA.com has begun offering its own individual and family Vision Benefit Plan. Annual membership fees range from $20 for an individual standard plan to $55 for a family “Plus Plan.” Covering single vision lenses and a limited selection of frames, the standard plan offers a 35 percent discount for three purchases per year by an individual and eight purchases per year by a family. The unlimited Plus Plan covers all lenses and frames, includes coatings and shipping, and offers members a 45 percent discount.

Coastal.com has launched a vision benefit plan for employers and membership organizations to provide their employees and members with preferred access to Coastal.com’s prescription eyewear and contact lenses. The Coastal Vision Plan provides each employee and his or her dependents with an initial free pair of prescription eyeglasses and ongoing savings on prescription eyeglasses, sunglasses and contact lenses. Other options allow employers to customize their plan.

Whether through discounts or insurance plans, iPads or iPhones, social media or creative marketing, optical e-tailers are doing everything they can— and proving effective at— bringing more eyeballs to the eyeglasses that they are selling online.