Discount. According to Webster’s the word has many meanings. But generally, when we think of the word as it relates to our industry, it’s “to offer for sale at a reduced price.” In both the retail and the B2B world, a discount generally is provided in exchange for something of value to the provider. For instance, a discount is used to move out merchandise (Inventory Reduction Sales), to entice a certain class of purchaser (Senior Citizens Discounts), to drive business to slow periods (“Blue Plate” Specials) or to increase volume (Frequent Buyer Discounts).
Our industry seems to live and breathe on discounting. Back in the late 1970s, with the advent of the first national buying group, I harnessed our industry’s standard discounting mechanics. That first discounting program for optometrists allowed members to purchase product at the deepest available discount; without meeting the standard volume requirements. But those discounts came with trade-offs. In exchange for the waived volume requirements were offsetting vendor benefits. For example, sold was sold; frames purchased at discount could not be returned. Orders were consolidated; members placed a single phone call and placed all of their orders. The firm, in turn, consolidated those orders for transmittal to the supplier thereby reducing the supplier’s costs. And all purchases were backed by bank guarantees; eliminating the vendor’s credit risk. Well, as these kinds of things often evolve in a competitive environment, most of those vendor benefits went largely by the wayside and today, buying groups are much different. In reality, for the most part, today few really get a discount…because virtually everyone gets a discount.
While not unique to our industry, today’s retailers and professionals have become conditioned to asking for discounts. It’s a way of life. SOP. Indeed, the number one searched word among ECPs is “free.” It seems that the most important question asked is “what’s my price?” So it stands to reason that this perspective would pass to retailing with pervasive discounting messages dominated by BOGO and other egregious crimes of brand development.
This situation was driven home to me several years ago when there appeared a television sitcom that had a scene set in an optometry office. The most dominate visual was a big sign saying “50% off.” How sad for our industry.
Does our industry lack marketing savvy? What else could possibly be the reason that everywhere we look, the word “discount” or the act of “discounting” prevails? Have we no creativity? Why is it, with all the amazing technology that exists in our industry, we can’t convince the consumer to purchase our products and services without a discount? Why is it that discounts prevail in an industry whose consumers fear the loss of vision only less than that of cancer or heart attacks? Why don’t we have the confidence to communicate our products and services with pride and not just price? As the saying goes, “in the absence of anything else, price prevails.” But we have so much to offer!
When we use the word “discount” in our marketing, what message do we send to the consumer?
At this stage, with years and years of these messages going out to our customers and patients, my guess is that we’ve been very successful, as an industry, changing the consumer’s definition of “discount” from that first mentioned in this article to another on Webster’s list.
I challenge our industry to look beyond discounting to find new ways of communicating and delivering value…at every level. We owe it to ourselves and to our universal “brand” to do that. The walk of 1000 miles starts with a single step…what will you do different tomorrow?