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November 10, 2006

Resisting Customers To Save Yourself

3mew has an interesting post about one user's experience at purchasing prescription glasses online. Turned off by having to shell out hundreds of dollars for a nice pair, the author searched on Google and clicked one of its search results advertisements. Long story short, he was happy with the result.

They arrived on Thursday, November 9th and they appear to be perfect. The lens quality and fit is excellent.

An optician took the time to respond and stated, without even seeing the glasses or knowing the patient, that the quality is probably inferior, the author was screwing local businesses, and opticians have overhead to pay for, so why doesn't he just get with the program and shell out the extra money to pay for that overhead?

While I can certainly sympathize with the optometrist's point of view as well as the challenges he's going to face in the coming years, dare I suggest he just needs to think bigger? The world is changing, and rather than sitting in his own little corner of the universe and curse the change, why not join the rest of us in the 21st century?

Can anyone besides me envision online eye exams in the future? Sure, some things need to be tested in a doctor's office. But years of learning and expertise have already accumulated into knowledge that has reduced getting prescription glasses to a series of tasks and questions that are performed by rote.

"Better or worse?"

"Lens 1, or Lens 2?"

"Read line 8."

All it would take is the will to commit the resources to developing a digital equivalent of the optical experience. This might include specialized hardware to control variables (perhaps it could be rented). Then, tell users how to fit their own glasses and sell them online. Doctors and opticians can reduce their overhead, and customers wouldn't need to take off work to set an appointment - the online equivalent would be available 24 hours a day.

My instinct tells me that optometrists and opticians, who tend to shun thinking like businesspeople, would resist these changes to their industry, as they would perceive it to reduce their expertise to a commodity. However, in reality, we would need their expertise to help develop the software capable of running these tests, and we'll always need to be tested for glaucoma and other diseases of the eye.

Think of all the good we could do in the world! Poor communities without access to a great deal of optometrists could be prescribed glasses tailored to meet their specific needs. Missionaries not trained as optometrists or opticians (but who know the language of the countries they are in and are trained to use the software) could help administer these tests. Additionally, global productivity will increase as this service becomes popular, and people will be able to afford to replace their eyeglasses at more regular intervals -- which would help reduce car accidents and save lives.

As someone who is dependent on wearing glasses, I truly do value what optometrists and opticians have to offer. But like Paul Herring said the other day with his quote of Upton Sinclair, "It is  difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

Thanks to David Armano for the head's up.

- Cam Beck


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Well, damn, Cam, get out there and go do it! Maybe there is life outside of advertising. :)

Years ago, an acquaintance showed me this really high-speed camera.

When you wear glasses, sometimes it's difficult to see through the little eyehole, but if you take off your glasses you can't see what you're taking a picture of.

This camera adjusted itself to sharpen the focus for people with poor vision. It didn't affect the focus of the photograph itself, just how you would see it. So I know the technology exists, and I suspect the experience could be mimicked digitally with the right minds on it.

You may have a point, though. :)

As an experienced optician in Europe, it must be accepted that there are some tasks that cannot be done reliably without people being face to face.
Would you allow a surgeon to operate on you when he was a thousand kilometres away? No, because he can't do the job properly when he's that far away - it needs the delicate hands and skills the individual surgeon possesses to be able to lead a successful result.
Spectacles cannot be successfully fitted on a regular basis without the ability to see the spectacles on an individual's head - every single head is different in it's own unique way - that cannot be replicated by computer. Just the same as a computer cannot provide a realistic review of a painting - it needs the talents of a knowledgeable and talented human to carry out.
The fact that many people who pay for spectacles end up rather unhappy as a result, says loads. Positioning of lenses in the frame, and the measurements that enable that to happen NEED in many cases to be accurate to at most half a millimetre, AND require the head to be in a particular position and angle to obtain adequate results. ONLY experience and familiarity can provide that - the internet can NEVER provide that.

Please remember that.

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