Optical shops battle to be apple of your eye
MAKING a pair of spectacles is now faster, cheaper and more convenient at some traditional optical shops here, as they have changed tack to keep up with newer entrants in the market.
The 20-year-old Spectacle Hut, the largest optical chain here with 36 outlets, recently slashed the prices of 700 designer items.
The 16-outlet Nanyang Optical, which has been around since the 1960s, has plans to start an online platform for customers to browse and reserve products.
Meanwhile, eight-year-old Eyecare Studio chain bought an edging machine that can make glasses within 30 minutes at its third outlet that opened in Seletar Mall last year.
Customers have usually had to wait between a few days and more than a week to collect their glasses after placing an order.
But expectations changed in July 2013 when Japanese optical chain Owndays opened its first shop here.
The brand, which makes its own glasses and stocks up to 3,000 lenses in each of its 18 stores, promised to deliver glasses 20 minutes after payment.
In 2014, Filipino firm Four Eyes launched its website, selling eyewear and frames designed by the company.
Such competition has forced traditional optical shops to rethink their strategies.
Spectacle Hut lowered the prices of its branded eyewear to make them more affordable and set the optical chain apart from Owndays, which has only its in-house brand.
A pair of Ray-Ban RX5154 now costs $210, down 30 per cent from the previous $300.
Said a spokesman for Spectacle Hut: "The traditional optical shops are affected by competition from brands like Owndays and online optical (shops).
"Fortunately, we are positioned differently."
Nanyang Optical also offers a 20-minute service at its Orchard Road outlet. But the brand's focus is on quality and not fast service, said managing director Bernard Yang.
"To me, Owndays is like going for fast food. At Nanyang, we are more like a restaurant where food is cooked to order. We can tailor and customise to your needs," he added.
Its online store will "cater to consumers who like to browse online before going down to our store to see and touch the product", he said.
The Singapore Optometric Association noted that business models which rely on fast turnaround time mainly deal with prescriptions that are straightforward, without features such as photochromatic lenses, tinted lenses and progressive lenses.
It estimated that there are 900 optical shops here.
For small players, such as Hazel Eyecare which has just one outlet in Bishan, the rapid expansion of Owndays has eaten into its pool of customers.
Owndays opened its 18th outlet in Tiong Bahru Plaza last month, and plans to have 25 stores in the next two years.
Offering a quicker service is not an option for Hazel Eyecare's owner Hazel Luo, 32, an optometrist.
"I'm the only one here doing the eye test and, sometimes, the next appointment comes in before the first one is done. I don't have time to cut lenses on the spot," she said.