Interview with Prof. Dr. Anna Nagl

Increasingly rapid changes in the market, driven by new technical developments, such as an increase in digitisation, make it particularly important to continuously question and adjust existing business models.

Digitisation presents a challenge for opticians. In the following interview with opti, Prof. Dr. Anna Nagl demonstrates how it can be mastered successfully.   

"Digitisation drives the need for innovative business models"

opti: Who benefits from digitisation?

Prof. Dr. Anna Nagl: Ultimately, it is the consumers, or in this instance the (potential) wearers of glasses or contact lenses, who need to benefit from digitisation because implementing the opportunities of digitisation is only economically appealing for all value creation levels when the consumers are satisfied and their requirements have been met at a price-quality ratio that suits them.

opti: To this end, what type of investment in digital equipment is necessary on the part of the opticians?

Prof. Dr. Anna Nagl: There is no simple answer to that question because it depends on the optician’s business model. Am I the first point of contact and advice for my customers with regard to good vision? And do I therefore offer them a more in-depth eye examination, starting with an initial test and ending with a functional eye examination that ranges from an objective and subjective refraction with binocular vision testing to an examination of the anterior and posterior eye segments along with a preventative glaucoma check? Or am I a tradesman who "merely" enables his customers to achieve optimal vision with a pair of glasses that fit perfectly? The answers to these questions will determine what type of equipment and investments I require as an optician.

opti: Competition from online retailers is growing constantly – how can local opticians set themselves apart?

Prof. Dr. Anna Nagl: Advice, optometric services and craftsmanship are natural success factors when it comes to achieving optimal vision for customers and avoiding price comparisons with online eyewear retailers.

Online eyewear retailers are (still) dependent on the competencies of these local opticians. This is reflected in statements like "If you would like to return the glasses because they don’t fit properly, we would advise that you have them adjusted by your trusted optician. Most opticians provide this service. Why not ask your local optician ...". The fact that collaborations between large "online eyewear retailers" and "independent opticians" do not constitute a sustainable business model was made evident in the case of Mr. Spex partner opticians. 

Due to the existing cost structures of specialist optometry stores, Mr. Spex dictated conditions that were economically entirely unfeasible, and the customers received glasses that did not match the quality standards of a stationary optician. This is because framework parameters like fitting height, frame inclination, face form angle and corneal vertex distance (CVD) are currently not even taken into account by online eyewear retailers. Local opticians will only stay successful if they provide a bespoke customer service and remain the go-to place for good eyesight.

opti: How does this relate to new ideas for customer retention?

Prof. Dr. Anna Nagl: In the first instance, this is not about new ideas for customer retention but rather about successfully and competently putting an optician's core competencies into practice.

opti: What could future "digital" business models for opticians look like, i.e. what kind of opportunities does this development hold?

Prof. Dr. Anna Nagl: Digitisation is "merely" a means to an end. Hence, it is about innovative and sustainable business models that make optimal use of the opportunities offered by digitisation. It is about offering customers an appealing online and offline service at good value for money which provides them with good eyesight and a good look.

opti: The resulting changes in procedure between suppliers and opticians might also be interesting.

Prof. Dr. Anna Nagl: Additional process optimisations will certainly be possible under the banner of "Industry 4.0". However, my impression is that the optometric industry is already fairly well-positioned in regard to processes and procedures.

The forward integration in the industry (in other words, the establishment of independent online shops by the eyewear industry) needs to be carefully thought through and be a win-win situation for both sides. This is because independent, stationary opticians are customers of the eyewear industry and thus contribute to its attractive margins. And if establishing online shops leads to competition with stationary opticians, and thus to competition with the eyewear industry’s customers, then the opticians will certainly think about switching to a different eyewear supplier.

opti: How well-positioned are German opticians compared with other European countries?

Prof. Dr. Anna Nagl: In my opinion and based on my experience the German market is the best-positioned market in the world. For the most part, customers are advised by highly skilled opticians not just in relation to optimal vision but also with regard to style. And the craftsmanship is perfect as well. Nevertheless, there are independent opticians and store chains that haven’t learnt their trade to the highest standard and who consequently offer their customers a quality equal to that of online eyewear retailers.

opti: A look into the glass ball on your part would also be exciting. Where is the digital journey going and what opportunities should the industry definitely not be missing?

Prof. Dr. Anna Nagl: All actions need to have individual client satisfaction as their top priority. As the saying goes: "The bait must attract the fish, not the fisherman".

The implication from an industry perspective is that attractive margins are generated by independent opticians and not by store chains and online retailers. This means that the optometric industry will only remain successful if manufacturers develop and provide attractive business models that achieve a successful combination of online and offline services. And the top priority for an independent optician is to optimally fulfil the different expectations of individual customer segments: A customer suffering from real visual problems, for example age-related macular degeneration (AMD), will have completely different needs and requirements than a customer who merely wants a stylish pair of sunglasses.

Prof. Dr. Anna Nagl

Prof. Dr. Anna Nagl has been the Dean of Studies for the MSc Vision Science and Business (Optometry) at Aalen University, where she runs the "Competence Centre for Innovative Business Ideas", since 2007.

As the author of "Der Businessplan" (The Business Plan) and "Wie regele ich meine Nachfolge - Leitfaden für Familienunternehmen" (Dealing with succession - a guide for family businesses), she is the source of inspiration for many ideas and solutions in this field. Her approach is to be as bespoke as possible while providing accompanying consultation support. 

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