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By: Anna Cheng

Euromonitor International estimates the global eyewear industry to be valued at US$114 billion in 2015. Due to the nature of eyewear, eyecare is a crucial service complementing the product. Eyecare refers to the professional service supporting the sale of eyewear products. This includes refractive and eye health diagnostics, as well as educating the consumer. This service is commonly bundled with the eyewear product which appears to be intangible to the consumer over time and is taken for granted. Consumers typically visit eyecare practitioners located in optical stores or eye clinics for their eyecare needs. Depending on individual cases, it is recommended that eyes are examined once a year.

Many consumers are unaware of the difference between refraction analysis and standard eye exams. Refraction analysis is performed by the eyecare practitioner to determine the refractive error of the eye, while a standard eye exam involves eye health screening. Eye health screening includes general eye conditions such as coordination of the eye, eye diseases such as glaucoma and cataracts. Other diseases can also be detected through an eye examination, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Trained eye care practitioners are able to perform refraction analysis at the same time and detect any early signs of eye problems.

The rise of online eyecare services

Online retailing is booming due to the convenience it brings. Eyewear is no exception, but growth is at a slower than average rate. As of 2015, eyewear sold via internet retailing is valued at US$5 billion, which is 5% of the global eyewear industry.

To compliment eyewear via online retailing, manufacturers are increasingly dabbling in online eye screening services. Both Carl Zeiss and Essilor have websites to provide such services. These websites allow consumer to go through a series of basic tests to check for visual acuity, contrast vision and colour vision. However, to date, both websites do not issue prescriptions. These tests, for now, allow consumers to have a better understanding of their vision, but for more detailed tests it is still advisable to visit an eyecare practitioner.

Opternative launched its website in 2012, which allows consumers to perform refraction analysis at home. Charging between US$40-US$60, the website can issue a prescription in 10 minutes. With this prescription, the consumer can then order contact lenses or glasses online. By eliminating the need to visit an optical store, this website provides an alternate hassle-free option to consumers with busy lives.

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Source: https://www.opternative.com/

No doubt this online service is backed by clinical study, however, the accuracy of the results and the relevance of the clinical study is questionable. Firstly, a relatively small sample of the target group was involved in the clinical study. Secondly, the self exclusion clause prior to the test can easily be bypassed with a click of the button. This puts consumers with specific vision and health conditions at risk and may lead to complications in the future when eye conditions go undetected. The lack of human touch means that prescriptions could be incorrect, and consumer may not even realise the mistake until their vision worsens.

Room for improvement for online eyecare services

The current online eyewear industry is still very reliant on the compliance and knowledge of the consumer. There is a shift in responsibility from eyecare practitioners to consumers. Online eyewear is relying on consumers to provide their up to date prescriptions when buying contact lenses or spectacles, and requires them to understand their own vision and health before taking the eye test.

While it is possible to purchase eyewear online, purchasing eyecare services online is still in its infancy, as the technology and consumer acceptance are still being tested. The accuracy of such testing methods remains questionable at this point in time. Eyecare is a crucial element in purchasing eyewear; phasing out the professional eyecare practitioner may not be the ideal situation. Nonetheless, with the influx of technology, it is inevitable that we will see more businesses going online and more technological developments. It is important that eyewear finds a way to merge technology seamlessly with online retail channels and the expertise of eyecare practitioners.

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