Article Date: 10/1/2002

Market Information Just Clicks Away
To understand how contact lens sellers compete, watch their Web sites regularly.

I suspect that optometrists concerned with mail-order contact lens companies have checked out these sellers' Web sites at one time, but once is not enough. That's because products and practices can change in an instant on the Web.

For example, in August, the 1-800 Contacts Web site ( provided complaint forms for Texas and Kansas consumers. The site instructed consumers -- whose O.D.s failed to release their contact lens prescriptions -- to print the appropriate form and send it to their respective state's board of optometry.

At press time (Sept. 26), these complaint forms were no longer on 1-800's Web site, but there was a button labeled, "file a complaint." The button linked to a message that read, "complaint form coming soon..." It would be wise for O.D.s to read this complaint form once it's published. OM will also periodically report on trends in the mail-order business.

Attitudes about O.D.s

Even if you don't worry about patient complaints, you shouldn't ignore 1-800, Lensmart, LensExpress or VisionDirect. As they gain acceptance (1-800 filled its 5 millionth order last year) these sellers might shape the public's view of optometry. Consider how consumers might react to this statement from 1-800: "many (optometrists) believe that withholding your prescription will force you to purchase contact lenses from them."

Of course you have valid reasons not to release a prescription as Dr. Neil Gailmard explains in "O.D. to O.D." on page 2. And I won't argue the prescription release issue here. The point is that such statements can prove damaging. However, I would argue that they're less damaging when an O.D. is aware of them and formulates a response to them.

Gleaning marketing strategies

Beyond prescription release, O.D.s can gain valuable market information on these Web sites. You'll learn that a growth strategy for both VisionDirect and 1-800 is to expand through an affiliate program where Web sites, even those totally unrelated to medical care, can partner with the lens sellers. For every new customer who purchases contact lenses through a 1-800-affiliate's site, 1-800 pays the affiliate a referral fee of at least 8%.

There's more to learn

You can also learn information on products offered, pricing, contests, rebates, shipping costs and delivery times. You may find this information can be valuable in understanding the patient-turned-consumer. But remember to check in periodically. Web sites change without warning.


Optometric Management, Issue: October 2002