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Competition is a good thing for consumers -- and for businesses (whether they know it or not). With more companies coming into the space from the low and high ends, it compels the established online eyeglass retailers to invest and improve in the areas of:

  1. creative, simplified order process
  2. quality control
  3. customer notifications
  4. knowledgeable/qualified customer service (thanks rbean)
  5. customer service contact options
  6. customer service response times
It also would be wise for the newcomers to invest some effort in seeing what has been working.

There are going to be issues with products ordered online -- especially those with so many variables. This is true of all industries, not isolated to this one. My dad told me when I was in high school, "Never buy a car that was built on a Friday, the people building them are tired and looking forward to the weekend." Like the cars of yesteryear (robots anyone), eyeglasses are unique and are built by people (whether in a mall in Omaha or a factory outside of Hong Kong). People make mistakes no matter how many safeguards are put in place (note to retailers: put more safeguards in place) -- and some aren't caught until they reach your hands.

Additionally, I think it's important to point out that even though these problems present themselves from time to time (and it really is rare in the grand scheme of things), the retailers that I've called on on behalf of a number of you, almost always fix the problem.

Ideally, they're ALL going to be right the first time, but what happens when they're not is just as important. I'm at a 13 for 14 (or is it 14 for 15?) success rate at this point with my moderate single vision prescription and astigmatism and couldn't be happier.

If my next pair is bad? I'll be bummed, but I'll make a phone call and toss on another pair.

If you're about to place your first order, split it up between a couple of the retailers. If you make a mistake (note to customers: double and triple check your entries, make sure you're ordering adult frames -- if you're an adult, and read up or call if you have questions), you'd need to do it more than once in order to be totally screwed. If you don't make a mistake, you'd have to have some seriously bad karma going to have bad things happen in more than one shop.

Also, if the mistake is yours, own up to it. You'd be amazed at what some of the retailers can do to soften the blow -- not that delivering eyeglasses at 1/5 to 1/10 the price isn't enough.

One last thing. I think we're all a bit too hard on the online retailers in general. We need to manage our expectations as much as anything. When you're paying $20 for a pair of glasses, DON'T expect them to arrive this week. DO expect that the prescription is going to match what you entered.

This is a new industry that has saved many thousands of us millions of dollars. They're learning all of this along with us. Fifteen or twenty years in the optical industry doesn't mean you can instantly translate that to the internets. It's a process. All in all, they're doing a pretty good job.

Good luck out there.

[Ed. (side) Note: If you're looking for something good to watch through those new specs, I can't speak highly enough about starting from Season 1 of "The Wire" and working your way through. Fantastic writing.]

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7 comments:

At March 19, 2008 at 5:57 PM rbean said...

I find it odd that you mentioned response time but not the quality of the response, or the ability to actually solve the problem without a lot of hassle. Personally, I don't mind waiting a day or two for a response, but I do want a response that can pass the Turing test.

That means, among other things, that the phone droids need to understand enough about how the business operates to recognize the various possible failure modes (including uncommon ones), and enough personal authority to get the job done without involving a "supervisor". And they need to be calm enough to deal with stressed-out customers. If a CSR can do all that, I don't care how fast they are.

(These comments are about customer service in general, not about any particular company or industry.)

 
At March 19, 2008 at 8:37 PM Ira said...

@rbean,

You caught me. I totally missed that. I think subconsciously I must've assumed that quality of response was understood.

I'll add it in.

Thanks!

 
At March 20, 2008 at 7:12 PM Mary said...

I just wanted to let you know that I just had an awesome experience with Goggles 4 U. I have to admit I was a little nervous since my first online glasses order with EyeFine was complicated and took forever and wasn't that great. Price rocked though even with the hassle.

Back to Goggles 4 U. Awesome!!! The frame, lens and shipping came to $38. How can you go wrong!!! The glasses were shipped shortly after I ordered and I received a very well padded box in the mail soon after that.

The glasses rock!!! They fit perfectly! Better than my last two pair that I bought at overpriced optical stores. Wow! My face is so happy!!! The glasses are fabulous!

Thanks a bunch for your blog. I have been referring people to it and telling them where I got my new specs. Very nice! Thank you!

 
At March 20, 2008 at 9:06 PM GW said...

I'm glad Mary was happy with her Goggles 4 U order, but I have to offer a bit of dissent here.

I received my first order from them and have not been able to wear them without getting headaches.

I did as Ira suggests in the blog and split my order up, buying two pairs from Zenni. These are perfect and cause no discomfort.

I have checked my order repeatedly and am certain that the problem with the glasses was not a result of mis-entry of the prescription.

The first two times I attempted to contact them, my email was bounced back as undeliverable. In the last couple of weeks, however I have succeeded in getting a couple of emails through to them (at least they haven't been returned), but I've receive no response whatsoever.

For what it's worth, I and my brick and mortar optician believe that the PD of this order is incorrect, which might explain why I can see clearly, but eventually get a headache.

If I don't hear from them soon, I guess I'll just package them up with a letter of complaint and send them back to the vendor in hope that they'll somehow make it right.

If they don't, I guess I'll have to challenge the charge on my credit card and file a complaint with the BBB.

I fully understand that people in any business can make a mistake--heck I grew up in a family that owns dry cleaning stores, if I don't understand that, who could--but I also firmly believe in making good on your mistakes.

As yet, I've no evidence that G4U is willing or able to do that.

 
At March 21, 2008 at 12:09 AM Ira said...

@GW,

Get me your order info and I'll see if I have any better luck getting through.

 
At March 24, 2008 at 7:51 AM GW said...

In fairness to Goggles 4 U, I should post the following update:

They have now been in contact with me, thanks to Ira's intervention, and I have great hopes that we will reach a happy resolution.

And yet, how ungrateful is it of me to have the follwing criticisms:

1. Their initial response takes a tone that suggest that my emails were not received as a result of my not understanding how their customer response system works. Still the site lists only one contact email. I'm not sure I see what more I could have done, other than contacting them throught the emails that they provide. I hope that what this email was really attempting to do was explain that G4U is in the process of creating a more effective customer response system, and I just got caught in the transition. Still, I wonder what would have happened if I were not a reader of this blog.

2. G4U promised swift turnaround of my replacement, yet did not answer any of the questions I asked in my emails with customer service. One of those questions was whether to where G4U would like the defective lenses returned. Again, I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, but if you're going to do customer service, you might as well do it right and answer your customers' questions. While I'm not particularly bothered by the unresponsiveness (this has really become a sort of business communications experiment for me--did I mention I'm a business communications professor?), which no matter how it turns out, will pay for itself by becoming a day of lecture on internet commerce.

3. Finally, see gift horse comments above, I have no problem whatsoever with Ira's being copied on my emails from G4U; in fact, I welcome it after getting his help in solving the problem. Still and all, It seems a bit of a security problem that G4U forwarded to Ira, my address and phone number as part of the email chain.

Ira, I will be expecting a holiday card this year.

Oh, and make no mistake, let none of this be taken as complaining, this has turned into more entertainment than I ever expect to get from a $25 eyeglass purchase.

 
At April 8, 2008 at 11:51 AM cke said...

Ira, I think I have that bad Karma you mentioned, but both companies have made timely and effective efforts to correct the issues I had with the glasses they sent to me. Thanks for paving the way for all of us to have better, fun and less expensive optical experiences. I've recommended your blog and the companies I've used (ane one that I haven't used, due to their claim of success with very strong prescriptions, and the feedback I've read about them on your blog) to so many people that I've lost count. I think there will be numerous converts here in rural northeastern New Mexico very soon. Thanks again for all the time and effort you've put into this.

 

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