The marketing of professional service: Opticians

Christina Fulop and Kevin Warren

In less than a decade, a series of rapid and radical changes in legislation have led to structural and competitive changes in the market for eye care. In the short period between 1984-9 the ban on advertising was lifted; dispensing of spectacles for most people by unqualified and unregistered suppliers was permitted; National Health Service (NHS) spectacles were phased out; universal free sight testing was abolished; and the sale of simple, ready-made, non-prescription reading spectacles by unqualified vendors was legalized.

This article considers the effects of the partial deregulation of the profession of opticians on the marketing strategies employed both by newcomers attracted by liberalization, and of traditional opticians compelled to adapt their operations and organization. First, the changes in the legal framework are examined and compared with that in which the opticians operated prior to 1984. Second, the competitive and commercial marketing environment which has developed as a result of this legislation is analysed, together with the other environmental pressures which have affected this market. Third, the marketing strategies adopted by different types of opticians with regard to positioning, pricing, product range, service and location are discussed. Finally, due to the importance attached by public policy to the lifting of the ban on advertising, the extent to which opticians have used advertising and other types of promotional activities to communicate with their customers is analysed.

BACKGROUND