You can expect lots of contact lenses to be sold this week, as holders of medical FSAs (Flexible Spending Accounts) face their annual “use it or lose it” deadline.
They might order their lenses for home delivery through such D2C players as 1-800-CONTACTS, Warby Parker, or, for perhaps the first time this year, through their own trusted eye doctor.
Or, should we say, through Abby?
Who’s Abby? She’s a platform now employed by some 2,000 U.S. eye care providers just three months after her launch by ABB Optical Group, established distributor of brand-name contact lenses to some 60% to 70% of the market. That’s tens of thousands of potential new providers selling D2C contact lenses.
Abby is also an animated, personable character who serves as the online face for each eye care provider.
Eye-care providers give their patients a prescription for contacts and tell them they can use Abby to get lenses delivered straight to their homes. Abby absorbs the shipping costs, and consumers save an extra trip to the doctor.
Using Abby is also less complicated than ordering through a company like 1-800-CONTACTS, Erika Jurrens, ABB Optical’s executive senior vice president for strategy and commercialization, tells Marketing Daily.
“It’s cumbersome,” she explains. “They have to take a piece of paper [from their doctor], call 1-800-CONTACTS; [Then] 1-800-CONTACTS has to call the doctor and ask, ‘Is this a valid prescription?’ The doctor has to say yes. Then the prescription can be sent to the patient.”
Going D2C for contact lenses also saves eye doctors lost revenue.
That’s because providers don’t get paid much for eye exams, she explains, while contact lens revenues “really help keep them in business.”
Despite consumers -- whose embrace of home delivery was exacerbated by the pandemic -- increasingly choosing to fulfill their eye doctors’ prescriptions through the likes of 1-800-CONTACTS or Warby Parker, Jurrens reports that ABB Optical research found that 80% of them would prefer to purchase from their own doctors but were choosing not to because of such factors as limited office hours.
“Abby allows that doctor’s office to be open 24 hours a day, every single minute of the day,” says Jurrens.
Indeed, Abby is designed to be an extension of the eye care providers’ office, with ABB Optical staying behind the scenes.
“The doctor has to be in the center of the conversation,” Jurrens stresses.
That extends to such marketing tools as follow-up emails from Abby, which remind customers when it’s time to visit their doctor for a new exam or to reorder lenses, she notes.
“We want to make the doctor the shining star,” she says. “We don’t want to be a consumer brand.”
After 50-some years as a B2B company, Jurren adds, ABB Optical considers Abby not its entrance into B2C marketing, but rather “B2B2C.”
“The doctor and the doctor’s staff have to be the front line,” she explains. “They are the folks handing out brochures and telling their patients, ‘We’ve placed your order through Abby,’ ‘You’re going to get a product from Abby delivered to your door,' ‘Expect that Abby’s going to send you a reminder in three months.’”
Jurrens says that ABB has invested millions of dollars in the Abby platform, which was developed by Bounteous.