The ‘art’ of the optical deal

A visit to two innovative optical shops reveals differing portraitures of providing better customer experience and increasing capture rate.

Take-home message: A visit to two innovative optical shops reveals differing portraitures of providing better customer experience and increasing capture rate.

Dispensing Solutions

Arthur De GennaroWhile attending the recent ASCRS/ASOA conference in New Orleans, my wife and I spent some time shopping in the Garden District. Those familiar with the area know that it is dotted with eclectic shops, most of which are locally owned.

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Since I work in the ophthalmology and optical dispensing worlds, I am always on the lookout for innovative optical shops. On this trip, I found two. I’d like to tell you a little about them.

Art and Eyes

The first is Art and Eyes. This is a high-end, independent optician whose goal is described on its website goal as providing a hand-picked collection of frames for “people who appreciate eyewear as an opportunity for aesthetic expression.”

From the name, one would expect to find eyewear and art-and indeed, you will find both on display. Beyond the obvious, however, the name evokes the idea of eyewear as art. This instantly elevates it from the practical to the aesthetic and gives it a strong fashion lift. In many cases, this too proved to be true.

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For example, a salesperson who engaged me showed a line of frames crafted from vinyl records. She also showed titanium frames that are fabricated in layers, creating a three-dimensional look and feel.

I, however, have a problem. When trying on frames, I cannot see them clearly in a mirror. Because I am over 55 and can only supply 1 to 2 D of accommodation, I see both myself and the frames as a blur. That situation makes selecting frames a challenge. For that reason, I generally do not shop for frames without my wife, who accompanied me on this trip.

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Unfortunately, Art and Eye did not have a way of helping me with this situation, or at least did not offer such a service.

Warby Parker


Warby Parker (WP)

The second optical shop my wife and I visited was Warby Parker (WP), in close proximity to Art and Eyes. For those who are not familiar, WP is the current darling of the online eyewear space and has achieved market dominance. Within the past couple of years, however, WP has begun to open retail stores in high-end neighborhoods across the United States.

WP’s reasoning appears to be threefold: to provide customers with a multi-channel purchasing solution, to extend its market share beyond online shoppers, and to overcome some of the limitations inherent in online shopping.

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One of the primary characteristics of its business model is that all of the frames are private label; WP does not carry any branded products. When you purchase eyeglasses at a WP store or online, you get a WP frame.

Another characteristic of the WP business model is that single-vision eyeglasses sell for $95 a pair; lenses and frame. This is about 40% of the national average, which makes WP attractive to millennials and shoppers on a tight budget.

While trying on frames at WP, I took a few selfies with my mobile phone-a common thing for dispensary customers to do. They were predictably poor quality, both the image and the lighting. I began to become frustrated. When engaged by a salesperson, I explained the problem.

The salesperson quickly offered to have someone take pictures while I tried on some of the frames. I did not expect much, perhaps someone with an iPad shooting pictures on the sales floor. I was mistaken.

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Instead, I was escorted to a room equipped with a professional photographic backdrop, a studio lighting system. The photographer used a high-end Canon camera that was Wi-Fi enabled. My photos were immediately transferred to a professional photo-editing program. Four photos were taken in all. I was able to study them individually and side by side.

In my case, a picture was worth a thousand words. The quality of the photos was impressive-portrait-studio quality. Both the frames and I looked dramatically better. I was so pleased with how I looked and the service I received that I purchased one of the frames. This is something I had not planned to do; after all, I was just browsing.

The takeaway


The takeaway from my story is that for years I have suggested that dispensing ophthalmology practices provide the type of photo service that WP is providing. Why? Because the average customer in an ophthalmology dispensary is over 55 and therefore, like myself, will have difficulty seeing the frames. Not seeing clearly is also true for patients who have been dilated.

Since not seeing the frames clearly is an objection that is often offered for not purchasing and becomes the vehicle for the customer taking the prescription and leaving, it only makes sense to find a solution to the problem.

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Using professional photography equipment provides the optical shopper with as good an image of his or her face and the frame as possible; the customer and the frame will be seen in their best light, as it were.

By contrast, the lenses on mobile phones and tablets are not made for high-quality portrait work. Because the subject is close, the lens will distort the dimensions of the face and frame.

In addition, such photos will most likely be taken in places where the lighting is neither controlled nor optimal. This result is a poor-quality image that could actually discourage the customer from making a purchase. 

You might find it interesting to know that LensCrafters will take photos of customers. I have shopped there and can say its camera system is not meant for portraiture and the lighting is often harsh. In my case, this produced a contrasty image that is far from flattering.

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Moral of the story

If a company selling unbranded eyeglasses for $95 dollars believes it is productive to take studio-quality portraits of customers as a way of providing a better customer experience and increasing its capture rate, what is stopping you from taking a page from the playbook?

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After all, don’t your patients-many of whom spend upward of $600 for eyeglasses-deserve to clearly see what they are considering to purchase? Don’t they deserve a high-touch customer experience?


Arthur De Gennaro is president of Arthur De Gennaro & Associates LLC, an ophthalmic practice management firm that specializes in optical dispensary issues. De Gennaro is the author of the book The Dispensing Ophthalmologist. He can be reached at 803/359-7887,, or through the company’s Web site, He maintains a blog at