Contact lenses sold only through eye doctors are a loophole in the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) and are taking an ever increasing toll on consumers and our business, says Jonathan Coon, CEO of 1-800 Contacts, in a lengthy commentary in the companys recent financial statement.

This problem is growing, Mr. Coon says. The manufacturer of the most popular doctors only lenses announced that sales of their restricted lenses grew 36% in their second quarter and 42% in their third quarter. We are currently turning away thousands of customers each week who want to order lenses which we cannot obtainlenses which are only sold to eye care providers and retailers affiliated with an eye care provider, he says.

Eye care providers have a conflict of interest because they sell the products they prescribe, Mr. Coon says. This is the primary threat to the very existence of our business, he says. (Third quarter results were disappointing, Mr. Coon says. Net sales for the companys U.S. retail business increased 1%, to $55.8 million, this year.)

Facing this threat is now the companys top priority, he added, saying that 1-800 will adopt a more defensive posture and cut advertising in order to fund initiatives to deal with the threat.

1-800 says it complies with the FCLCA but is often criticized for the actions of others, meaning other online retailers. The company even singled out another online retailer: Coastal Contacts maintained a pattern and practice that was inconsistent with the prescription verification requirements of the FCLCA and engaged in trade practices that misled consumers.

But this statement doesnt jibe with other recent information. In October, the Federal Trade Commission sent a letter to 1-800 Contacts warning them about violating the FCLCA. The letter said the FTC had received complaints about 1-800s verification response, or lack thereof.

Meanwhile, Coastal Contacts vehemently defended its practices in a release and called 1-800s allegations spurious.

Unlike 1-800, Coastal has not received any correspondence from the [FTC] regarding non-compliance with the [FCLCA], says Coastal Contacts. It appears that 1-800 has a history of attempting to hold others accountable for its own performance and have named eye care providers, manufacturers, doctors only lenses and competitors as the cause for its disappointing financial results.

Vol. No: 142:12Issue: 12/15/2005