There are two things you should know about me: Number one - I wear glasses. Number two - I love it when traditionally difficult-to-use services in the offline world are digitally transformed.

There are probably some more things too, but none of them appropriate to this post.

Recently I went through the rigmarole of booking an eye test and ordering contact lenses through a high street retailer. 

I realised that during all of the telephone calls and repeated visits to my not-quite-so-local branch, that most of this experience could be carried out much more conveniently online.

Therefore I took to the internet to see how high street opticians are adapting to digital, and how much more convenient my experience would have been if I had booked an eye-test or ordered contact lenses online. 

Ordering contact lenses

Let’s see which optician is winning the SEO battle for contact lenses…

Searching for ‘cheap contact lenses’ reveals a large and highly attractive ad from Vision Direct full of relevant messaging and the use of local SEO to tell me the nearest branch to my location.

Vision Direct also dominates the paid search listings for ‘online contact lenses’, ‘ordering contact lenses’ and just plain ‘contact lenses’.

So let's check out Vision Direct's landing page first, before we look at multichannel retailers.

Vision Direct

Vision Direct’s landing page is clear, unfussy and offers obvious CTAs. There is also pricing information, the offer of next day delivery and the tempting proposition that I can order without a prescription.

Trusting your customers to put the correct details in is key in providing a fast efficient service, rather than asking them to upload their prescription as a separate document or even forcing them to take a brand new eye test, even if it’s been under two years since the last one.

Vision Direct does offer peace of mind by providing an upload or ‘check with your optician’ option, if you feel more confident in doing that.

The only major problem with the landing page is that it’s not responsive or adaptive, so doesn’t shrink to a smaller screen size. When searching for contact lenses on a mobile, Vision Direct has mobile PPC ad running, with a handy click to call button…

But this leads to a non-optimised mobile experience…

This is a huge oversight, that would stop the mobile user in their tracks.

As for the Vision Direct desktop product page, there’s a great piece of micro UX, which gives the user total confidence that they’ll enter the correct information from the box of their preferred brand.

Hovering the mouse over each drop-down menu option changes the image and highlights where that information is found.

Another great feature is that you’re told instantly the availability of your chosen lenses. This particular prescription can be dispatched today.

There’s also a simple drop-down menu in the shopping basket, which lets you choose a delivery cycle. This is great not only for customer convenience, but also to encourage repeat custom. 

Also note how few steps there are in the checkout journey, the distraction free layout, a bold CTA and the consistent offering of a live chat tool. The only things that could improve the checkout is the offering of faster payment options. 

Normally I would say that guest checkout is another integral feature (one that is missing here) but Vision Direct only asks for the most necessary details anyway, so it isn’t missed.

Let’s check to see how other opticians compare.

Specsavers

Contact lens information can be accessed directly from a drop down navigation menu on the homepage. Although the option to ‘buy online’ being placed at bottom left means it’s easy to miss.

For comparison, Vision Express has a great drop down menu, which defines the two separate areas for ‘buying online’ and ‘buying instore’, which makes for clearer navigation.

Specsavers’ ‘buy online’ takes you directly to a very clear, easy to use product listings page, filled with huge images, large text and filters which dynamically change the results as you click each option.

Once you’ve chosen your lenses, the product page offers a pop-out menu, which couldn’t be easier to use.

Perhaps the only improvements that could be made here are that the text for how long delivery will take should stand out more (although it does change according to your prescription) and I miss Vision Direct’s tool which told you where on the box to find the prescription information.

There are other ways the checkout could be improved too.

Unfortunately there is no guest checkout option.

Specsavers doesn’t trust you to put your own prescription details in, you have to scan your prescription document into your computer and upload it here. 

If you’re already a Specsavers customer it will scan its own records for proof, or you can choose to send it in later via post, however your order won’t be processed until it’s verified.

Finally there is no option to sign up to a monthly service here, which means Specsavers is missing out on the chance to capture repeat custom.

Specsavers does offer a monthly lenses by mail service called Lensmail, and this information can be found within the top navigation.

However as you can see, this isn’t a service you can sign-up to or change the details of onine. You’re merely presented with contact information instead.

In order to be a truly digitally transformed company it would be beneficial for Specsavers to tie up this offline service with its online store.

Optical Express

Optical Express has a lot of positives. Its navigation is easy to use, with contact lenses housed just below the ‘shop’ tab.

It’s one of the few online opticians to offer a fully responsive website, as well as a specific mobile site.

Optical Express is also one of the few retailers or service providers to utilise a mobile specific live chat tool.

The product listing page utilises large images along with clear drop-down filters and I also like how it chooses to save space by hiding product information behind hoverable text boxes on the product images.

Later in the journey, guest checkout is offered, which is great way to speed up conversion, and perhaps even more importantly the user is trusted to input their own prescription details without uploading a document.

There are things that could be improved however. 

An estimated delivery time should be included on the product page.

There is also no ability to choose a scheduled monthly delivery, so it’s just up to the customer to reorder whenever they remember. This isn’t helped by the fact that you’re kept largely in the dark as to when your package will arrive.

Requesting an eye test

Requesting an eye-test online is fairly straightforward for most opticians. 

Specsavers allows you to search for the nearest store to your postcode, and the ‘request’ CTAs are excellent, although the mass of pins in the map is a little intimidating.

To actually request an appointment though you have to fill in a web-form, after which a customer service agent will call you back to confirm the time and date.

It seems like an inefficient system, and is probably the best Specsavers can do with the technology it has, but if the online booking form was linked to the appointment system at branch level, this would be an incredible differentiator for the optician, it would also save resources, time and offer fantastic customer service.

Vision Express also operates this web-form to return-call system, as does Boots. The web form for Boots’s eye test request is particularly unpleasant to use however... 

I’ve not yet mentioned how Specsavers, Optical Express and Vision Direct make a point of using large typefaces and bold colours in their design because there is of course a stronger chance that the people using these websites (myself included) would appreciate the clarity. 

Boots on the other hand see no such need to offer such accessibility, with its miniscule text boxes, lack of responsiveness and faint text.

Optical Express offers an easy to find and easy to use eye-test booking form, but unfortunately doesn’t ask for a choice of preferred time or date, so the user has no idea if anything may be available within their desirable timeframe. Or how long it will take for the customer service team to get back to them.

Boots may take 24 hours to get back to you, but at least you know the maximum time. Optical Express could really do with being transparent about these details and at least offer preferred date and time choices in the form.

This is made more disappointing because it has an excellent booking form for laser eye surgery consultation, in which you’re able to specify the exact time and date you desire.

Online opticians’ checklist

To conclude, here is a brief rundown of all the features your website needs based on the findings above.

  • A real-time booking system linked to your branches.
  • The ability to set up a monthly order of contact lenses.
  • No uploading of prescription necessary.
  • Visual guide to where on the contact lenses box you can find prescription information.
  • Accurate delivery time information.
  • Highly accessible text size and colour, as well as bold CTAs.
  • A mobile optimised site.
  • Guest checkout.
Christopher Ratcliff

Published 25 February, 2015 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (4)

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pete levy, Head of eCommerce development at Mind your own business

If you are an optician your are required to capture the prescription or you could loose you optometry license. So customers have to weigh up the balance of a proper supplier who asks your for your prescription against the ease of not entering one. Always look for inclusive aftercare as opticians have a duty to care. I think this market is going to change a lot in the next 3 years. A good, well researched article.

about 3 years ago

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Melvin Simpson, Consultant at melvinsimpson

Excellent piece Christopher, thanks.
The issue of prescription entry is an interesting one. I think the reason that Specsavers and other opticians ask for validation isn't because they don't trust their customers: it's because General Optical Council regulations require it. Vision Direct circumvent this by redirecting the order offshore, which is a clever workaround that bigger opticians may be more reluctant to use.

about 3 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and GDPR Geek at Fresh Relevance

The regulation requiring a prescription seems to be this: "Sale of optical appliances order of Council 1984" (click link for PDF). It requires a written prescription less than 2 years' old, from "a registered medical practitioner or registered optometrist following a testing of sight by him", but it doesn't specifically require the vendor to see the prescription, or even the optometrist to see the patient.
https://www.optical.org/download.cfm?docid=881573AF-2529-45E5-8CA5FF07873E4113

Even so, offshoring as Melvin says, may be the most practical way to simplify the process.

about 3 years ago

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pete levy, Head of eCommerce development at Mind your own business

Both points are correct. So a bloke on the street can legally sell you contacts or glasses over the internet without your prescription. However if you are an optometrist you need to have a copy of the physical prescription or you face being stuck off.

about 3 years ago

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