Remote dispensing and assisted e-commerce in the age of Coronavirus

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The global pandemic has been the catalyst for many retailers to advance their e-commerce offerings, and Specsavers has been no exception.  

As we took the necessary steps to close our retail stores in March and April, we also made the decision to ramp up our online offering to ensure customers still had the ability to purchase glasses while remaining at home.  

The need for remote dispensing services, primarily developed from the need to provide vital services for customers – many of whom were essential workers – who required new or replacement spectacles urgently in order to carry on with their work safely during the lockdown period.  

Because some prescriptions require additional measurements or checks due to their complexity, our usual Australian e-commerce processes limit the ability for a customer to place an online order, depending on certain prescription parameters.  

However, with our stores closed for everything except urgent care and the volume of customers requiring new glasses, we looked to introduce a new process of assisted e-commerce.  

The new process picks up customers with a prescription that falls outside the normal online parameters, including children’s glasses prescriptions, those with a high Rx, or those that need progressive lenses.

According to Hailey Richardson, Specsavers Dispensing Advancement Manager, these orders require a more detailed dispense than is currently available with our existing e-commerce mechanisms.  

“When it comes to dispensing certain glasses, for example, children under the age of 16, dispensers need to pay particular consideration to a child’s developing facial anatomy. As children are constantly growing, the suitability of the frames and the positioning of the lenses is essential. If a child’s frames are ill-fitting or the lenses aren’t centered correctly this can result in a number of ongoing issues, which is why it’s important that we take the time to ensure we get it right first time, every time.” 

The solution was a collaborative effort between our e-commence teams and our product team, to develop an assisted e-commerce process, which has seen the team respond to more than 1500 customer requests in the past six weeks.  

Under the new process, the customer can go online to select their frame and inputs their current prescription. If the Rx sits outside the e-commerce parameters, the request is forwarded to the remote dispensing team, made up of five dispensers and two administration assistants with many years’ experience in Ophthalmic lenses and dispensing.  

Additional patient data is collected to help build a patient profile, before being passed to the dispensers, who contact the patient directly. In cases where we can dispense remotely, glasses are processed, or the dispensers will liaise with store partners in open for care stores to assist the patients face-to-face.  

Primarily the focus of the remote dispensing team has been to process as many orders as possible, without the customer having to leave their house

Another great outcome of the remote dispensing process has been the launch of a new service for replacement glasses.

As many of the cases we’ve dealt with during the lockdown have been requests to replace frames for existing customers, our e-commerce team has developed a process to provide this service for new customers who may not have been able to go to their regular optical retailer. 

And the volume of requests has continued to remain high across the lockdown period, particularly with many of our customers working from home, which has led to an increase in cases of digital eye strain, headaches, and vision problems.  

Hailey says common everyday mishaps have also led to an increase in orders, including cases where customers’ pets have “eaten” their glasses. She even had one case where the customers’ young daughter accidentally put his glasses through the dishwasher.  

One of the big learnings of the assisted e-commerce process is the important role dispensers play in optometry.  

Working directly with the customers, the remote dispensers have been able to communicate and demonstrate their expertise, and many of our customers have been grateful for the support.   

Hailey says after being out of the store environment for more than two years, being “back on the shop floor” has been a great experience. “It’s an incredibly satisfying feeling when you know you’ve got pairs of glasses making their way to customers who really need them.” 

As we prepare to reopen our stores more fully, the assisted e-commerce process will remain in place to support stores as they grow back to their full capacity.

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