Orthodontist Turned Mystery Shopper for a Day: My Invisalign Store® Experience

Note: The opinions presented below are that of the author, and have not been verified by Align Technology®. Multiple attempts were made to both contact the Align® Corporate team by email, but as of the date of this publication, Align® failed to return the inquiries.

As an orthodontic consultant and the CEO of StraightSmile Solutions®, I am frequently asked to forecast Align Technology’s® next strategic move. Take a moment to peruse the hundreds of dentist forums on Facebook® and you’ll see the full spectrum of emotions the dentists embody towards this corporation: admiration, disgust, rage, and fear. Don’t get me wrong, I have tremendous respect for Align Technology’s® clinical products. Over the span of the past two decades, they have single-handedly changed the face of an entire profession.

Contrary to their other ventures which were quite ostentatiously celebrated on social media, in Q4 2017 Align® demurely launched its first brick and mortar “Invisalign Store®”. This shop is located on some of the most expensive real estate between the Cow Hollow and Marina districts of San Francisco. It is nestled nondescriptly between bourgeois shops like an organic baby food store, a Starbucks Reserve® (look that up if you aren’t familiar!) and various concierge medical practices and holistic wellness centers.

As a Bay Area native and a citizen concerned about corporate cannibalization, I openly welcomed the request from a client to visit the store to learn more. Evidently, I wasn’t the only orthodontist who was concerned. As I was walking into my appointment, the manager was very professionally escorting an enraged orthodontist from New York outside to answer his questions more privately. The treatment coordinator apologized for the disruption and proceeded with the appointment.

Initially, setting up the appointment online was simple, but it was not without issues. In my opinion, the site was rushed and not thoroughly vetted and de-bugged. My appointment was canceled and rescheduled due to a change in hours. When I arrived, I was asked to log in to the site. There were some technical malfunctions in the process as well, and it took about 15 minutes and several managers to resolve it. In contrast to the smooth and seamless scanning experience at a competitive DTC aligner company, this process was not yet idealized. I was also given an online medical history, which was pretty standard.

The décor was high-end, which matched the clientele they are courting. It looked more like a luxurious living room with recliners instead of dental chairs. Unlike the DTC scan center nearby, no swag was distributed. It was a no-nonsense records appointment My scanner was a licensed RDA who scans as a 2nd job. She was clearly experienced. I tried timing the scan in my head, but I think she completed it in less than 3 minutes for both arches. She was swift and comfortable with the intra-oral photos as well. She followed OSHA regulations perfectly.

After the scanning session, I was sent to the treatment coordinator who was supposed to show me my outcome simulation. Unfortunately, due to the bugs in the system, they weren’t able to access mine. They told me that they would call me and let me know if I was a candidate for “Invisalign Deluxe”® or “Invisalign Signature”®. You are assigned the Deluxe® treatment if the outcome simulator designates you as 14 aligners or less. The beauty of this is that there’s a flat rate cost on this at $2499. You are given a list of 8-10 doctors in your area who are “recommended” and participate in this program. I was assured that at this moment, all the doctors are certified, orthodontists. If your case is staged on the simulation at over 14 aligners, you are still referred, but the doctor sets the price. Essentially this is now a Full® or Teen® case. I was told the average in the Bay Area was $5000-$8000. Because of the technical difficulties, they were unable to show me my selection, but I was told I’d be emailed it later. At this time, only doctors in the greater Bay Area are participating but they would be expanding to other geographic areas in the future. Once I selected my doctor, they would set-up the appointment.

The doctor would finish the Clincheck® and meet with you to complete the financial arrangements but I was guaranteed that if my case was less than 14 aligners that all the doctors they recommended would charge me $2499. This is the cash price. I imagine it’s not applicable if insurance is involved. I am not sure if this includes retainers or not. I was encouraged to “yelp” or research my providers and find the best one for me. Given that the 2018 doctor lab fee for Invisalign Lite® is $1199 and there are no volume discounts with these cases, this is a very slim profit margin for these participating doctors. They did not tell me what the fee for retainers would be and if the doctor could set their own fee. How does Align Technology® select the doctors who are allowed to opt-in to this program? My e-mails to Invisalign® corporate were not answered.

Ultimately, this so-called “beta”® store for Align Technology® is one more step in the direction of corporate cannibalization and will likely push many doctors towards 3D printing their own aligners. Trying to compete with the $2499 fixed price for a mild-to-moderate case will be near-impossible with such a high lab fee. By 3D printing your own aligners, your overhead can be as low as only $100 per case once you’ve purchased the initial equipment, which ranges from $30000-$50000. Depending on your volume, you can be in the black in just a month or two. You can also scan and deliver your aligners in just a few hours as opposed to waiting 2-6 weeks for shipping. If you are planning to do volume, this is the right direction to go. If you are hesitant about purchasing the equipment outright or staging your own treatment plans, connect with me and the StraightSmile Solutions® Team, as there are many hybrid options. If you have questions, visit my other blogs at www.straightsmilesolutions.com or connect with our team for a 20-minute complimentary consultation and a review of your orthodontic overhead and process flow. You can schedule an appointment at www.straightsmilesolutions.com. In light of the unfortunate status of the 3-Shape/ Trios® users, StraightSmile Solutions® is also offering 60 days of upgraded services to all 3-Shape® doctors who sign up for services within the next month who are looking for alternative aligner companies. This offer is valued at $999 per doctor and is for a single doctor- solo practice. Contact our team for group-practice and DSO discounts.

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