Michelle Minnie was once a practicing optometrist and now a brand manager at SDM, a leading optical wholesaler.

In any sales or retail environment, there are many different types of personalities to deal with. Some of us love shopping, personally I create opportunities to buy and shop, even if I don’t need anything. At the same time, I know there are many people that dread the idea of having to buy anything. For them it becomes a real chore to even stock up on essentials. Each type of consumer requires a unique approach and it takes some experience to identify the type of consumer that you are dealing with. This becomes even more relevant in the optometric business, because a visit to the optometrist can be fraught with uncertainty. Purchasing eyewear for the first time can be a daunting exercise and there may be a degree of apprehension about the outcome of your
eye examination.

The purpose of writing about consumer types from my point of view is twofold. Firstly, in the spirit of personal empowerment, I think it would benefit consumers to understand themselves better by knowing what their strengths and weaknesses are. This will give them the opportunity to empower themselves to create a better sales experience overall. Secondly, for the sales assistant, to find ways to service each type of consumer in the most appropriate way. In my years spent in sales in an optometric practice, I found a lot of joy and fulfilment in getting to know my customer. There is something special in getting it right. There are few things as satisfying as spending time with someone and knowing that when they have finished their time with you, they are better off on many levels.

So, here are a few of the stereotypes (please don’t take offense!) that I have encountered and my personal take on how you as consumer can be empowered to improve your experience in the optical environment.

Mr and Mrs Smarty Pants

• Who is this consumer? They know it all already, they have done research around the subject of eye care and eyewear or they have had many eyewear experiences in the past. They generally have a good idea of what they want and could even have an idea of the cost involved. Sometimes their opinions are based on conversations with others, so they could be misinformed.

• What do they need from their optometrist? They need good, accurate, honest information. Do not try to pull the wool over this consumers eyes, because you will lose the opportunity with them. You could have the opportunity to upsell to this consumer, as they are generally willing to spend more if you can illustrate the benefit of the product that you are selling to them.

• Are you Mr. Smarty Pants? Be open to learn from the experts in store, ask questions and use the time with the sales assistant or optometrist to verify the information you may have acquired. Remember that the internet (or your well-intending neighbour) does not always know everything and that you are unique, so the optometrist that you have selected should be taking care of your unique needs.


Nervous Nelly

• Who is this consumer? This is someone who walks into the practice with a feeling of dread. They may have had a previous unpleasant experience, or this could be their “first time”. This consumer is fearful of pricing, could even be fearful of the examination itself.

• What do they need from their optometrist? You must be patient with these individuals, slow things down and be careful not to share too much information. Lead these individuals with easy, open-ended questions and take time to understand their needs and perceptions. Take extra care in explaining the options available to them and reassure them throughout the process. If you rush or push this consumer, you may just lose them.

• Are you Nervous Nelly? I would suggest that you make sure to choose an optometric practice where enough time is allocated to each appointment. When you make an appointment, you could ask the receptionist regarding this and you should be able to get a feel for the pace of the practice at this point. It is a good idea to gather some information from friends and family who are spectacle wearers. This will help you make your choice.

I’m just looking

• Who is this consumer? This could be a Nervous Nelly in disguise, or someone that loves to shop. They would usually enter the store to browse and you would get the following response when you approach them: “just looking”. They are flighty and easy to put off. They do want information, but would generally like to make sure that they feel comfortable with the store, the merchandise and the pricing before getting involved in any conversation.

• What do they need from their optometrist? This consumer needs to be approached with sensitivity and care. You need to make sure that they know that you are prepared to help but give them the space and time to get the information that they need. It may help to ask open-ended questions. For example; “are you looking for optical frames or sunglasses?” This will indicate if they are prepared to engage in conversation. If you notice that they are interested in something specific, it is a great opportunity to volunteer information on the specific item that they are looking at. For example; “ let me tell you more about the lenses used in this sunglass brand that you are looking at” or “the material used in this specific frame.”

• Are you “I’m just looking”? You should use the time in store to gather information about the products and to gain confidence in the store. It is your prerogative to shop around and to spend as much time as you need to find solutions that make sense to you.

Loyal Lola

• Who is this consumer? This consumer is in love with the practice. They have either been coming to you for a very long time or have had a good experience with you and your staff. They generally refer others to your practice.

• What do they need from their optometrist? To not be taken for granted. The loyal customer is gold – it is much easier to retain a current customer than to find new ones. They can be volatile, so it is important that they feel valued and appreciated. Don’t assume anything about this consumer, treat them with respect every time they visit and make sure that you re-assess and understand their needs at every call.

• Are you Loyal Lola? It is important to find an optometrist that you trust and that you know will take care of your needs. There are many good people out there, so look around until you find the one that works for you and stick with them. A long-standing relationship with your optometrist ensures that a good history of your eye health is available to the optometrist, which is a major advantage. However, if you feel like a commodity in the practice that you visit regularly,
move on.

As a consumer, you should try to define what your needs are before entering any retail environment. Convey your needs clearly upfront. The optometric space can be daunting, but if you know what you would like to get out of the visit, you should be able to maximise on the opportunity and to have a satisfying experience all round.

Happy shopping!

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