As SmileDirectClub navigates its return to brick-and-mortar SmileShops, the company also is seeking to become more than just a source for direct-to-consumer teledentistry and teeth straightening. The company is investing in reaching shoppers outside of the traditional smile-aligner target through the gateway of its oral care products that are available through partnerships with major retailers. And by remaining committed to improving its customer experience, SmileDirectClub is turning SmileShop and teledentistry clients into repeat customers.
“The oral care products help introduce people to our brand because it’s a way to step in and build trust — particularly with the whitening product,” said John Sheldon, SmileDirectClub CMO in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “People who were whitening are more likely to straighten. That’s a great way into our brand, but also we’ve got over 1.5 million customers who’ve completed teeth straightening with us, and the [CPG line] helps us extend our relationship with them on the other side.”
Reconnecting with Consumers Through Brick-and-Mortar
In January 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic had heavily impacted the U.S., SmileDirectClub revealed that domestic Walmart stores and Walmart.com would carry its CPG products. SmileDirectClub now sells through Walgreens and CVS in the U.S. and in Canada through Walmart and Shoppers Drug Mart.
“Those products have been a very successful business for us and, particularly in the case of the whitening [products], have completely reinvigorated that category,” Sheldon said. “It was a shrinking category before we entered that market and it grew last year at 17%. We just helped turn that category completely around for retailers.”
During the pandemic, SmileDirectClub was forced to close all 400 of its global brick-and-mortar SmileShops locations. The brand took this opportunity to strategically reduce its footprint, consolidating its reach from 14 countries to six and reducing its doors to 100. Now, the retailer is adding new SmileShops, but in a more mindful manner. The retailer is currently in a small “wave” of opening approximately 10 net new shops, and Sheldon predicts another wave or two will take place this year.
“We used this time coming back from the pandemic to identify some of the key locations where we didn’t have to put back all of the [previous] shops,” Sheldon said. “The good news is that we’re seeing a lot of promise in the potential to open additional shops.”
Sharpening its Focus on the Customer Experience
SmileDirectClub closely examines how to improve the customer experience at every step of the relationship. To optimize the customer experience in its brick-and-mortar locations, the retailer regularly reviews videos of customers’ in-store experiences (with their permission). As a result, “We’re shifting what we do before they show up, we’re shifting how that experience happens in the shop and then how we follow up afterward,” said Sheldon.
In addition to in-store services, SmileDirectClub also remains committed to teledentistry services, which aligns with the company’s positioning as a relatively low-cost method of improving one’s appearance.
“We saw an early wave of [teledentistry] and then a second wave of consumers that were in it for the Zoom glow-up,” said Sheldon. “That was a good news part of the business. We’re 60% less than braces or Invisalign and so we added a whole new bunch of people to the category, and those are the people who have been hit the most in this pandemic.”
A recent survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers conducted by SmileDirectClub found that 59% would consider receiving care through telehealth sessions due to the pandemic. With rising fuel costs, 39% cited the elimination of the need for transportation as the most important benefit of telehealth appointments.
“We just want to meet them where they want to start, but ultimately that comfort with telehealth for this type of service is way up because of the pandemic,” Sheldon said.
Part of the SmileDirectClub expansion also has included the introduction of a SmileDirect Partner Network of dental offices. “We opened the SmileDirect Partner Network and we’re working with over 1,500 dental offices right now across the United States, to begin treatment processes in your own dentist’s chair,” Sheldon said. “We don’t care where you start, we just want you to start the process in a way that you feel comfortable and confident.”