EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 360 - June 08, 2014 - ISSN 1528-6703     2 of 5

Eyewear Seller Puts Ecommerce into Focus

By Greg Holden

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Ecommerce has evolved to the point where customers can even feel comfortable buying prescription eyewear online: case in point, EyeBuyDirect. The company recently re-launched its website and offers glasses, including frames and lenses, for as low as $6 - EyeBuyDirect owns and operates the entire production and distribution of its lenses and frames.

Contributing Editor Greg Holden reveals some of the techniques the site users to convert shoppers to buyers and to keep them coming back for more - including offering instructional videos and a way to drill down to the type of frames the shopper is looking for, and offering various ways for shoppers to communicate with the company on multiple channels.

Roy Hessel practices what he preaches. He continually investigates new ways to look at selling prescription eyeglasses on his EyeBuyDirect website by shopping there himself - and completing purchases. He probably represents an ideal customer.

"I have a couple dozen frames that I match to suit different occasions," says the founder and CEO of the Austin, TX-based company. "Every time I shop, I find a way to make the process easier for customers."

Hessel has just implemented some of those improvements on a revised version of the online marketplace that went online April 30. The changes address Hessel's experience of eyeglass shoppers he gained since launching EyeBuyDirect in 2006.

The new features added to EyeBuyDirect address the challenges facing anyone who sells prescription glasses or similarly complex (or, as Hessel describes it, "high involvement and expensive") product online:

  • Past mistakes. "Many of the online prescription eyewear customers have had negative experiences buying offline," he comments. "The process is scary, the options are not clear and the final product is very expensive. We make it easy, inexpensive, and painless."

  • Lack of knowledge. "Another challenge is helping the customer understand the lens options and his or her prescription. Most prescription eyeglasses wearers are not very well educated about what their prescription mean and what type of lenses are available to solve a wide range of needs."

To address these obstacles and encourage shopping, EyeBuyDirect focuses not on expensive brand names but affordable frame options. (Prices range only to $60.) The shopping experience emphasizes customer education, ease of shopping, and developing loyalty. The site's relevant features include:

Product filters. When you shop for glasses, you can filter by style, gender, material, size, and other factors. The results are shown interactively on the current web page.

Ease of use. You can start shopping and filtering right on the home page.

Instructional videos. "Everyone who wears prescription eyeglasses knows the feeling of being offered lots of lens options by their eye care professional that they know little about," says Hessel. Video topics include buying glasses online, lenses and coatings, how to read an eyeglasses prescription, and more.

Eye Try feature. A customized "Eye Try" feature allows customers to upload a photo of themselves in order to virtually try on any pair of frames available on the site.

The ability to take prescriptions online. Customers are able to send the company their prescription and have the glasses made to order.

EyeBuyDirect generates impressive numbers - "Our conversion rate is well above the ecommerce industry average of 2 percent," Hessel says. "The high loyalty and retention rate of our customers is one large cause of this."

In 2013, 50 percent of revenue came from repeat customers. "Our most effective channels are email marketing and word-of-mouth referrals. However, we also use traditional customer acquisition channels like SEM, Display, and more. Personal transitional mail works well with our customers."

Interestingly, Hessel doesn't spend time on search engine optimization. "We do not invest in SEO," he said, "nor have we ever. We have always felt that if we build a quality site with original content, search engines would know to rank us high."

The most effective customer acquisition strategy has been word of mouth - or rather, of face. After all, when someone buys a new pair of glasses, they are very visible to the customer's friends, family, and business colleagues.

To encourage customers to tell others about their experience buying glasses online, EyeBuyDirect offers a loyalty program with generous rewards. Customers can interact by posting photos of themselves wearing EyeBuyDirect glasses in an online "Wall of Frame" and then "liking" each other's images.

They can also sign up for an email newsletter. "We find that many of our customers, after finding how easy it is to buy, tend to become very loyal. An interesting fact is that as they come back, they tend to try new styles of frames and different lenses. Our email marketing therefore is a crucial component in customer retention."

An article on the store's website explains three strategies for converting customers that are normally an advantage for brick-and-mortar eyeglasses merchants:

  • visually seeing the customer;
  • tracking the customer's behavior; and
  • allowing the customer to communicate his or her needs.

Accordingly, Hessel enables customers to post photos of themselves; the site compiles analytical data through cookies and other tracking features; and customers can communicate through Facebook, blog post comments, email, and call center calls.

In other words, interacting with customers and encouraging those customers to interact with one another is key to return visits and purchases.

It helps that once someone makes a purchase, the final product can be easily seen by others. As Hessel explains: "We are lucky in that we sell a very visible product that is needed to solve a very specific - and common - problem."


About the author:

Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.


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