VSP Global is taking an omnichannel approach to vision care and vision insurance to keep pace with how more consumers are shopping for eyewear online and to keep up its current market share.

A big payer is combining ecommerce and stores to bring a more retail-focused approach to how it provides vision insurance, works with eye doctors and provides consumers with eye glasses, contact lenses and examinations.

VSP Global, which has about 88 million members worldwide and is the largest vision insurance company in the U.S., already has an ecommerce site. The company originally launched Eyeconic.com in 2011, primarily as an in-network, online eyewear website for plan members.

Members and consumers can use Eyeconic.com to comparison shop and buy online from an inventory of more than 5,000 SKUs, including 2,300 styles and over 60 brands for eyewear and contact lenses. Users also click on Eyeconic.com to find an eye doctor from VSP Global’s network of 34,000 providers.

Now, seemingly borrowing a page from other high-profile eyewear retailers such as Warby Parker, which now has more than 70 stores nationwide and is in the process of opening about 20 more, VSP Global is set to open its own stores.

Later this year VSP Global will open three stores in Chicago to “create new access points for retail-minded consumers who are looking for experiences that bridge the divide between digital and physical.”

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Without a strategic retail footprint, we risk closing the door on key clients, as well as the 20% of consumers who are choosing retail and even online-based eyewear stores over private practice.

VSP Global is taking an omnichannel approach to vision care and vision insurance to keep pace with how more consumers are shopping for eyewear online and to keep up its current market share.

VSP Global doesn’t break out ecommerce sales but generates annual revenue of about $5.6 billion, according to Crunchbase.com.

But with the changing nature of how consumers are buying glasses and related products these days, VSP Global needed a new approach, says CEO Michael Guyette.

“Without a strategic retail footprint, we risk closing the door on key clients, as well as the 20% of consumers who are choosing retail and even online-based eyewear stores over private practice.

Another focus of the payer’s new approach to retailing is creating new opportunity for its provider network of eye doctors.

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With the launch of three Eyeconic stores, VSP Global also rolled out VSP Ventures, a new business unit designed that will work with eye doctors to diversify and operate their independent practice.

For example, each Eyeconic store will be wholly owned and operated by VSP with a sublease model for VSP network doctors.

“Benefits managers are demanding more substantial retail options and doctors have been asking VSP to create a doctor-centric alternative to private equity,” Guyette says. “A well-defined network strategy, which includes retail, allows us to provide a variety of options for doctors at every career stage and in every kind of practice setting—from privately owned, to dispensary-managed, to VSP-owned and operated.”

In addition to operating stores, an ecommerce site and as a big vision insurer, VSP Global also has been diversifying over time to provide more vision care product manufacturing and related services.

VSP Global operates VSP Vision Care, a not-for-profit vision benefits company; Marchon Eyewear Inc., a designer, manufacturer and distributor of eyewear and sunwear; and VSP Optics, which provides ophthalmic technology and lab services for custom lens.

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Other business units of VSP Global include Eyefinity, a developer of practice management and electronic health record software, and VSP Retail.

More detail on how VSP Global will integrate ecommerce and stores and where further retail market expansion will happen will come later this year, the company says. VSP Global didn’t discuss specific dates.

“Eyeconic is well-positioned to meet changing customer requirements by creating a digital and physical brand environment based on personalization, choice, and well-being,” says VSP Retail president Bill Vaughan.

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