The ‘State of the Eyecare Industry’ Is ‘Change,’ Vision Expo Panelists Say

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The “State of the Eyecare Industry” was presented by (l to r) moderator Kirk Smick, OD, FAAO; panelists, Essilor’s Howard Purcell, OD, FAAO; Luxottica’s Holly Rush; and Bausch + Lomb’s Rob Meyering.
Among the changes the speakers predicted were that while the audience of eyecare professionals might perceive that online retailing is coming on strong, those with a brick-and-mortar presence could be better positioned for today’s consumer.

“People here today are very much involved in the change happening in eyecare,” Smick said, to introduce the panelists speaking on the subject of the “State of the Eyecare Industry”—Howard Purcell, OD, FAAO, Essilor’s senior VP, customer development group; Holly Rush, president of Luxottica Wholesale North America; and Rob Meyering, VP, Bausch + Lomb.

Purcell began with a big picture look at the eyecare industry as a whole, where it’s been and where he sees it going.

“Today, when you assess your patient’s visual performance, you hold them to a standard established over 150 years ago,” he said, referring to the Snellen chart developed in the mid-1800s and the 20/20 acuity determined as “normal” vision at the time. He suggested that so many years later “it’s not enough” and asked the audience for their opinions on what acuity the visual system can achieve. The consensus was that 20/8 is “probably the best,” he said.

“We’re just getting ready for exponential change,” Purcell predicted, picking up on the theme of “change.” Among his predictions: “Artificial intelligence will have a very big impact on our industry. I believe the phoropter will go away, and quarter diopter limits are not good enough. I believe virtual reality will change what we do in the next five to 10 years.” He then cited Facebook’s purchase of Oculus Rift for $2 billion in support of this.

Addressing the eyecare professionals in the audience, some of whom may see online retailing as a threat, he suggested that the reverse may be true. “Omnichannel to me is the future, and you sit in a perfect position to achieve this because you know brick-and-mortar and you can open up e-commerce. “Webrooming is happening, reverse showrooming where people research online to go into a brick-and-mortar location and buy. Consider embracing some of this technology because you sit in the perfect place to achieve this,” he recommended to those in attendance.

To prepare for that future, he suggested that those in the optical field should take more risks, jaywalk more, because statistics show that more people are hit in the crosswalk than when they are jaywalking. “Jaywalking is probably safer in the long run,” he said. “In the eye-care field, we tend to walk in the crosswalk, take less risk. As an industry, we need to jaywalk more.”

Luxottica Wholesale North America’s president, Holly Rush, then continued on the established theme of change in her “Consumer Connected” presentation about the State of the Eyecare Industry from the consumer’s perspective. “All conversations seem to start with this theme of change,” she said. Consumerism is shifting from a seller’s market to the buyers’ market of today’s digital age, she said, citing a quote from the CEO of CVS, Larry Merlo, who said that the “changing system will lead to the ‘retailization’ of health care.”

This shift, Rush explained, is due in part to the fact that “the consumer has all the information they need at their fingertips.” Stating that it’s “no longer enough to think about medical, we have to think about retail as well,” Rush observed that “consumers tell us today that the whole eyewear purchase experience is overwhelming today.” To address this, she shared some best practices in retailing from other industries.

Here are the five points she made: The art of retailing is emotional; the consumer wants a physical space in which to shop. The science of retailing requires having the right price at the right time. Recognize and reward staff members who go above and beyond. In the omnichannel experience, the customer expects digital and physical retail to be integrated. You have to own retail as much as you own the quality of care.

Meyering concluded the presentation with a discussion about the history of and his involvement in bringing Bausch + Lomb into the optometric pharmaceutical world. He shared stories from the time Lederle made vitamins such as Stresstab and when Storz Ophthalmics and Chiron Vision were purchased and combined to create B+L Surgical. He cited the opportunity that presented itself when he was tasked with building the business in St. Louis, where the American Optometric Association and leading optometrist Frank Fontana, OD, were located.

Concluding with a reference to the presentations’ overall theme of “change,” Meyering said, “Optometry prescribing has come a huge way since 30 years ago, and the way you practice has changed dramatically too.”