While it is more common in retail to see businesses establishing a bricks-and-mortar presence and then adding an online store, the Australian optical retail scene is moving in the opposite direction. Numerous online eyewear retailers are choosing to establish a physical presence to complement their online offerings and tap into new potential, in a move expected to put pressure on traditional optical stores.
Separation of the Eye Test from Eyewear Purchase
Traditionally, an eye examination would be followed by the purchase of suitable prescription spectacles at the same optical store. However, this is changing due to the increasing sophistication and functionality of online eyewear retailers, tied in with their value and convenience propositions. Consumers are now more likely to visit an optometrist for an eye test and then enter their prescription online to find fashionable frames at attractive prices. The purchase of eyewear online has achieved continuous growth in the Australian market, with the channel accounting for 6% of retail value sales in 2014, up by four percentage points over 2009-2014.
Online retailers benefit from a low-cost model and can offer significant discounts by cutting out the middleman. However, one hurdle is the inability to try before you buy. To overcome this, online eyewear retailers have expanded their capabilities to offer features such as virtual try-on, free home trial and free returns. Furthermore, multiple online eyewear retailers are establishing a bricks-and-mortar presence, allowing customers to have an eye test in-store and then experience the look and feel of products along with the human interaction that many desire.