Envisioning Eye Care
Pragnesh Gangar is one of the well-known personalities in the eyewear retailing business. His experience encompasses taking a family run optical business to the corporate level. Here are his expert views on the current state of affairs in the optical business...
India’s eyewear industry grew, evolved and expanded its footprint over the last decade or so. Until COVID hit. This growth was driven by a number of factors such as many funded optical businesses and modern retail entering the industry and rising demand for eyewear in terms of volume sales. Add to that emerging new technologies and changing fashion trends, consumer lifestyles, choices and preferences.
But while the industry itself grew, the traditional opticians and family-owned optical businesses are now getting sidelined.
Why? Because, the funded optical businesses and modern retail brought in scale, range, reach and choice in terms of eyewear brands, products and accessories. It can reach customers faster, by having a wider digital footprint.
But, traditional Opticians continue to remain largely unorganised. Overheads continue to increase even as some family-owned optical businesses wage price wars against each other. There is no monopoly on products. They have lesser marketing power. Lack of funding means the inability to invest in newer technologies. There are no proper calculations of returns on investments. Vendors and resources need to be managed better.
While the bigger chains are introducing more range, traditional opticians do not have access to unique brands/ products. There is a need to upgrade to newer trends, designs, technologies and ideas. To use data and analytics more effectively.
Most of the traditional optical stores look like they are ghosts from a bygone era. A certain “newness” is missing. Besides, there is a shortage of trained professional optometrists.
In parallel, with changing lifestyles, customers' perceptions are changing. While newer products get pushed and the volume of choice keeps increasing, customers today are not even aware of the fact that Eye Care is missing.
Yet, modern retail continues to turn a blind eye, even as Traditional Opticians struggle to make customers realise the value of care.
Post-COVID, eye-related problems such as eye stress due to high screen time, especially among children, are on the rise. Leaving customers confused and eye stressed.
But a significant chunk of the population continues to look at eyecare as a need and not a necessity. For a majority of them, the notion of 'Eye Care' remains limited to 'Eye Wear' or 'Eye Cure'.
For traditional opticians and the family-owned optical businesses, all of these factors translate into a double whammy of lower footfalls in the stores and decreasing profit margins.
Care Comes First
If we think about, earlier, there would be at least one local optician in every neighbourhood, who would give a lot of time and care to examine the eyes of patients, understanding their pain points before prescribing solutions. The friendly neighbourhood local optician, who was the trusted go-to-option for anything related to the eyes, in spite of not having perhaps the coolest / newest / trending products, tech, tests or accessories. Simply because of the expert care that traditional opticians offered.
Though the funded optical companies have been able to get some market share because of huge marketing expenditures, there are a huge number of disappointed customers, because of their unethical practices and lack of knowledge about eye care, whereas there are hardly any complaints related to eye care in traditional optical shops!
This presents a huge opportunity for traditional opticians to make expertise and eye care available to customers. Because care creates consumption.
Care with Expertise
It's time for traditional opticians and family-owned optical businesses to challenge the past. Now, more than ever before, we need to shift to a “Care First/ Care Before Cure” approach with a 360° strategy to compete in a market which is constantly changing.
As traditional opticians and family-owned optical businesses, we have laid the foundations of the optical industry in India. Now we need to unite and build on each other’s strengths so that we can together change how customers see eye care today.
Care is an experience. We need to ask ourselves, how might we design a better eye care experience for customers, so that we can win back their hearts?
What if we could make the traditional opticians the 'Heroes', by adding the “Expertise” that's missing in eye care? Expertise, which might then lead to exponential consumption. To ensure more in-store footfalls, higher returns, and a future where we may not just survive but thrive!
It is time for us as traditional opticians, to shake off the old ways of doing business. We need to look at the world through a new lens, explore new ways of thinking, innovating, using more exciting forms of technology. So that we can build newer ways to adapt and thrive in an emerging new nation that will look at the future with a fresh pair of eyes!
*The views expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not reflect the opinions of the publication or its editors