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Online Retail and Vision Benefits Utilization

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What You Need to Know

  • People still buy eyewear at brick-and-mortar shops.
  • The pandemic increased Versant’s monthly online retail claims volume 133% between March 2020 and December 2020.
  • One selling point for online retailers is the reviews.

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered an e-commerce turning point and accelerated the use of online retail tools. The ability to purchase essential items from home has been critical to sustaining everyday life throughout the pandemic, and its popularity is likely to be sustained in the future.

This increase in online shopping is not strictly related to consumer-packaged goods — it has become more common for people to take advantage of online retail to conveniently purchase care items they regularly need, including eyewear.

In fact, Versant Health saw a 133% increase in online retail claims from March 2020 to December 2020. This rise is an important trend of which health plans and advisors must be aware — they are in prime position to increase awareness and utilization of vision benefits by helping clients understand why, when and how online retail is offered by vision plans and useful for their personal needs.

To understand why online eyewear retail has grown so quickly, we must recognize the large impact convenience has on consumers’ choices. With only a prescription, consumers can choose from hundreds of eyewear options and can also curate delivery timing of contact lenses at the desired time interval.

Although not a replacement for in-person care, access to an online retailer within network helps meet the eyewear needs of many members with varied tastes, needs, time and budgets. It’s important to start building a baseline education with clients on the online eyewear retail factors that may influence their benefits decisions.

1. A Wide Range of Digital Partners

It has become increasingly common for vision plans to offer virtual options in their packages — and in fact, it may become a staple of vision coverage moving forward. That said, while most consumers know the breadth of eyewear options available to them, fewer know how they can apply their vision benefits to eyewear online. For example, 1-800-Contacts, Glasses.com and Befitting are all online eyewear retailers that are included in vision plan networks.

2. Millennials Are Heavily Interested

Of those consumers who are shopping online, Millennials (ages 24-39) are taking over the online eyewear claims space — the majority of Versant Health’s 2020 online retail claims were made by this age group. Most Millennials — who became the largest generation in the workforce a few years ago, according to Pew Research — grew up in the digital age and are more comfortable with using virtual methods to shop.

3. Greater Product Transparency

Additionally, online shopping enables public user reviews, which provide insight and transparency by offering a more comprehensive picture of the product before you make the purchase. Consumer trust in online reviews is so strong that negative reviews can be the difference in whether a purchase is made or not.

4. Cost Savings for Both Members and Plans

Online eyewear retail can, at times, offer cost saving options that brick-and-mortar stores do not always provide — for example, many online retails allow consumers to compare their non-branded products with in-person retailers’ prices. Consumers can also compare prices between multiple providers with ease to find the best deal. These savings add up and encourage members to use their benefits more often — which can ultimately lead to overall care savings.

Members living in the evolving post-pandemic retail landscape must know how purchasing glasses and contacts online integrates with their vision benefits so that they can maximize their vision plans. It is imperative that insurance agents, brokers and health plans adjust their benefits access conversations so that members may choose the option best suited to their lifestyles. Once educated on how to appropriately use their vision benefit online, consumers are likely to find increased satisfaction and cost savings when making their eyewear purchases. We’re continuing to track consumer trends within the industry and across the broader retail landscape to ensure we’re meeting the eyewear needs of our members — and we encourage insurance agents, brokers and health plans do the same.


Scott Hamey (Photo: Versant)Scott Hamey is the executive vice president, strategy and manufacturing, at Versant Health.