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Disposable lenses make up almost 95% of global retail value sales of the contact lenses market, consisting of daily disposable, weekly/monthly disposable and extended wear lenses.Unlike traditional lenses, which are customised base on individual eyes, disposable lenses are mass produced according to what the manufacturer deems to be the market average. However, every individual’s eyes are different, therefore requiring professional advice and fitting at the time of purchase to ensure the right fit and material suitability for the end consumer.
Professional advice and fitting have traditionally only been seen in physical optical stores. With the increase in online shopping for contact lenses however, eye care practitioners are concerned about the implications for the eye health of users. A handful of governments have stepped in to regulate the online distribution of contact lenses, with some applying an outright ban altogether. Despite such a move, unauthorised online sales of contact lenses are still prevalent and the authorities are finding it difficult to enforce.
In essence, contact lenses are classified as medical devices. While people will not usually purchase medicine online without first consulting a doctor, consumers are willing to purchase contact lenses online without consulting an eye care practitioner. The issue here is a lack of awareness and understanding of the implications that can arise from misusing contact lenses. Younger consumers typically regard contact lenses as fashion accessories, especially when it comes to using cosmetic lenses.
Volume sales of contact lenses grew at a 6% CAGR over 2010-2015, with spikes in sales of cosmetic contact lenses occurring at Halloween each year. While demand for such lenses is seeing an increase, a corresponding increase in reports of consumers being blinded or infected after wearing such cosmetic lenses is also being seen.
To ensure eye safety, cosmetic lenses should have the colour pigment ‘sandwiched’ to prevent dyes from coming into direct contact with the cornea. However, many contact lenses that are distributed online are not manufactured using approved materials or colour dyes. Inferior lens materials add fuel to the fire, as they prevent ample oxygen flow. All of this can lead to eye damage, such conjunctivitis (pink eye), corneal infection, scratches on the cornea, poor vision and more serious cases it might lead to blindness. To address these issues, it is crucial that consumers are educated about the risks associated with contact lens usage and told about proper hygiene management by a certified eye care practitioner.
Specialist contact lens stores educate young wearers
According to Euromonitor International estimates, the global contact lenses market was valued at US$14 billion in 2015, with store-based retailing still dominating the eyewear industry and more than 70% of global retail value sale of contact lenses sold through optical stores.
Wearing ill-fitting contact lenses is like rubbing one’s eyes with sandpaper and over-wearing contact lenses is like using a plaster over a wound without changing it. These are things no one would actually do, but contact lens wearers perform such deeds without realising the consequences for their eye health. In Japan, specialist contact lens stores are widely seen across the country, and in recent years, such stores have entered Singapore. They are equipped with certified eye care practitioners who can perform eye examinations, offer contact lens prescriptions and fittings, as well as educate consumers on proper contact lens care regimes. They may carry a single brand (such as Miru by Menicon) or carry multiple brands (in the case of retailer Hirocon).
The profit margin for contact lens is generally much smaller compared to that of spectacles; however, these specialist contact lens stores serve as a good platform to provide proper education to young contact lens wearers. The success of such shops outside of Japan has yet to be established; however, with increasing volume sales of contact lenses due to the affluence and fashion-consciousness of consumers, specialist shops like these are a refreshing way to counter the cons of online sales of contact lenses.