Coastal Contacts/Clearly Contacts

How They Changed B.C. Regulation By Rachel Hill-Campbell

We are all aware of the increase in the past few years of the purchasing of eyewear online. Unfortunately despite the efforts of the OOA, the OAC, the COO and the other Colleges and associations of Canadian Eye Care Professionals we have seem to have been hit with a tsunami.

The History

I see the story as the ability of a boldly aggressive retail seller to have what I and many optical professionals view as a negative and alarming influence on health care regulation.

  • Coastal Contacts/Clearly Contacts was founded by Roger Hardy in 2000.
  • Included on the Board of Directors were many influential people including a previous Liberal Member of Parliament (federal).
  • The B.C. College of Opticians filed a petition with the courts demanding that the online seller provide them with the name of the registered optician(s) they employed in the process of dispensing.
  • In October 2009, the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that Coastal Contacts/Clearly Contacts “failed to comply with the regulations governing
  • The safe dispensing of contact lenses, but also gave the companies six months to establish a business model that would conform to the regulations.”
  • The company did not change its business model but instead lobbied for the law to be changed.
  • In 2009, the opposition NDP party noted that Coastal Contacts had donated $10,300 to the B.C. Liberal Party.
  • In May 2010, the Liberal Health Minister changed eye care regulations in B.C.  While adding to the scope of practice of opticians to include refracting, the change at the same time allowed what amounts to a regulation free market in the sale of contact lenses and eyeglasses.
  • January 2011, Clearly Contacts sent out an email to their customers, urging them to vote Liberal in the upcoming election, and pointing to the changes brought in last year as a reason to do so.
  • In summary it is clear to me that Coastal Contacts/Clearly Contacts and the Liberal party have had a mutually beneficial relationship allowing the Internet seller to generate the tsunami Canadian opticians, and in particular Ontario opticians are now suffering.

I note with interest that in August 2012 a former B.C. Liberal finance minister was appointed president of Coastal Contacts.    This latest appointment reflects the influence Coastal/Clearly has had on Liberal Party policy in B.C.
What We Can Do

The concern eye care professionals probably have is the possibility that Coastal Contacts may try to repeat the regulatory changes they have made in BC, within our province.
As Opticians we need to rise above our game in order to retain and grow our customer base.  Customer service and customer education needs to be a priority.  Make educational statements on your Facebook site, or post messages on your company website.  Show consumers the difference between dealing with a regulated professional and a faceless Internet seller.

If you sell product that is offered online, consider making changes to your inventory thus creating product lines that are unique. Our Optical stores are NOT a fitting room to try on products.

My office will not write down model numbers on our business cards when we quote the patient. We do keep the information for future reference should the patient decide to proceed with the purchase. We do provide them with the brand name and lens measurements but not the model number. Instead we keep a card file with the shopper’s name, date they were in the store and the model of the frame they looked at with any quote that was given.  Some Optical stores I have heard keep the alphabetized names of the shoppers and the product information in a binder so as to keep it separate of the patient files.

If I don’t recognize a patient who comes in to have a frame adjusted I always ask “Where did you buy these?”  If they admit to buying on the Internet I refuse to adjust them.  This is up to your discretion as many Opticians have chosen to charge for this service.  I personally do not wish to take the risk of breaking anything or assisting anyone that has taken away from our industry by purchasing online.

Finally, here’s the lesson we should have learned from the B.C. experience. Lobbying is a fact of life and we need to lobby not just as an association or a college but individually as well. When you vote in local, provincial or federal elections take an active interest in the position candidates take on the issue of Internet selling of optical goods.  Make a point of visiting your local M.P. and ask the questions.  It’s in your best interest to become involved.


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