I agree with Bradley Wells from Sauflon (Optician July 1, page 36) that the threat of contact lens sales from supermarkets is much greater [to optical practices] than that from the internet.
Promotional balloons are being handed out to shoppers in supermarkets. Many families have literally carried the message through town and home 'Contact Lenses from our pharmacist, by phone, by post and online - Tesco'.
Time will tell how much market share the online retailers will gain, but the split between supermarket and online sales may well be academic to the independent practitioner who could lose out to both types of competition. (They could lose out, but they don't have to).
These challenges are not going to disappear, they will increase, and so independent practitioners should harness the extra marketing and publicity of contact lenses as a real opportunity. We want the public to think and talk about contact lenses.
Many people have been banging this drum for a while, I'm certainly not the first, but I hope that the new regulations in force following the Section 60 Order, which has created the supermarket challenge, will encourage more independent practitioners to review their business strategies, and soon.
An instant switch to charging fully for professional time could counter this threat, but I doubt it will happen everywhere. Supermarkets are experts at selling commodities at, or near to, the lowest prices. Independent practitioners should not try to take on supermarkets at their mass retailing game, but differentiate themselves as eye care professionals.
Independent practitioners are often highly successful by offering top service and selling something a little bit special. As with spectacle frames and lenses, the same can apply to contact lenses.
Commodities become sold on price, but advanced contact lenses, including the best of the disposables, are the most likely to offer the independent practitioner better margins and a successful future in parallel with increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.
In most sales channels, quality has value and it should be no different for contact lenses in terms of both service and product.
J Keith Lomas
Group Chief Executive, UltraVision CLPL