By Scott Hamey
The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a massive surge in online retail use, and its popularity is unlikely to wane in the world following the pandemic. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, consumers spent $861.12 billion online with U.S. merchants in 2020, a whopping 44% increase over the previous year.
This increase in online shopping wasn’t limited to consumer-packaged goods – there was also a surge in care items people regularly need that would normally be bought in a brick-and-mortar store, including eyewear. In fact, Versant Health saw a 133% increase in online retail claims from March to December 2020.
During quarantine, online retail both prevented unnecessary potential exposure to COVID-19 and improved convenience for consumers, saving them time and energy while ensuring they did not fall behind on their eyewear prescription. Although tech-savvy Millennials have long been reaping the benefits of online shopping, older consumers—who often have more eye issues—may be less clear on the benefits of online retail for eyewear and inclusion of online options in their vision care plans.
Health plans and advisors are in a unique position to educate and guide older consumers on the benefits of online retail, even after the pandemic, in order to ensure that they are appropriately accessing their vision benefits and staying up to date on their vision prescriptions.
Addressing Generational Gaps in Online Retail Use for Eye Care
Millennials have been dominating the online eyewear claims space, making up the majority of Versant Health’s 2020 online retail claims. Millennials also represent the largest generation in the workforce and brands are adjusting their sales tactics to meet them where they are, by launching websites compatible with desktops, mobile devices and mobile apps that allow consumers to purchase their eyewear needs from anywhere in just a few steps.
However, there is a concern that older adults, who are less familiar with technology and often more prone to eye conditions, may miss out on the significant benefits that online retail for eyewear offers and participate in risky behavior to extend the use of their eyewear.
According to the CDC, the improper cleaning and irregular replacement of contact lenses and cases, as well as extended use, has been linked to a higher risk of complications and infections. However, because 70% of people who buy eyewear from online sellers replace their contacts as recommended, one potential way to prevent complications with corrective eyewear—and the health costs of improper use—is to educate members without a nearby retail location on vision care options that combine in-person care and online retail. With online retail subscriptions, members can upload their prescription virtually and even set up automatic shipments to ensure their contacts or glasses are always in top condition, in addition to having access to in-person care.
Highlighting the Power of Choice and Convenience
In addition to being able to quickly receive eyewear from the comfort of home, buying eyewear online also affords consumers additional choice in the style and brands they have access to. In combination with in-person retail, members have a wide selection to personalize their frames to ensure comfort and match their personal style. From luxury to sport brands, from very functional to very stylish, the combination of in-person and online eyewear retail covered by vision benefits provides more personalization than either option alone. Further, more people are electing to decline corrective surgery in favor of eyewear, so the popularity of contacts and fashionable glasses are expected to rise.
Beyond convenience, consumers are recognizing the benefits of buying glasses and contacts online, including additional choices and consistent subscriptions for their prescriptions. Looking ahead, it doesn’t appear that online shopping will slow down any time soon, as younger generations lead the movement towards online shopping and brands adjust their selling strategies to better meet their shopping habits. For this reason, health plans and advisors have a unique role to play in educating older consumers on the benefits of utilizing their vision benefits for online retail to ensure they are taking advantage of the newest offerings.
Scott Hamey is Vice President of Strategy at Versant Health.
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