Dollond & Aitchison is partnering with Sainsbury's, the British supermarket chain, to offer an online service for contact lenses. Through the new service, customers will be able to order a range of contact lenses for direct delivery and obtain new prescriptions from their existing opticians or through one of D&A's retail outlets. Additionally, customers will have access to after-care at D&A stores at a reduced fee. D&A already has its own mail order operation for contact lenses, which will remain in place. Sainsbury's website offers discounts of 40 percent on contact lenses by four major suppliers.

The venture with Sainsbury's coincides with a review by the U.K. General Optical Council (GOC), investigating the safety of purchasing contact lenses and glasses over the internet and by mail order, in view of possible new regulations. The GOC's last specific pry was into eBay but it ended in no action and cost it £14,000 (€20,400-$25,800). In issuing 10 summonses for similar offenses last September, the council had begun prosecuting eBay for aiding and abetting illegal contact lens sales, but the charges were dropped following legal advice indicating that eBay International, which is based in Switzerland, was acting only as a ?hosting company? under European law and thus was not responsible for the listings on its website.

Prescriptions are required in the UK to obtain contact lenses over the internet or through a supermarket. In Holland, where no such rule exists, Dutch eye doctors are collecting information to warn customers about the dangers of buying contact lenses in supermarkets or over the internet. In France, the association of contact lens manufacturers, SYFOC, has led a big mail order catalog house, Les 3 Suisses, to drop an offer for colored contact lenses.

According to the latest industry estimates, sales of contact lenses grew by 2 percent in the UK last year. A total of 3.3 million people wear contact lenses in the UK, representing 6.7 percent of the adult population, and 12 percent of them use silicon hydrogel lenses.

In France, sales of contact lenses and solutions grew by an estimated 2.8 percent in 2005, with sales of contact lenses rising by 4.5 percent in value and by 7.8 percent in volume. Those with silicon hydrogel jumped by 220 and 474 percent, respectively. Sales of solutions instead fell by 3.1 percent in volume.