In an asset deal, WellPoint has sold its Glasses.com business and its virtual try-on technology to Luxottica and its online contact lens retail subsidiary, 1-800 Contacts, to an equity firm, Thomas H. Lee Partners. Both transactions should be completed before the end of the first quarter.

For Luxottica, its part of the acquisition is described as a first step in the establishment of an independent digital platform with an enhanced online shopping experience for the North American market.

Glasses.com, which sells lenses and frames over the internet, was launched in mid-2010 by 1-800 Contacts, a pioneer in internet retailing of contact lenses. Glasses.com has been operating as a subsidiary of 1-800 Contacts. It launched a more advanced, proprietary three-dimensional try-on application last spring (see our electronic archives).

Wellpoint bought 1-800 Contacts in June 2012 from Fenwick Partners. The company said it was divesting these assets to concentrate on opportunities in the health care market.

In an interview with an Italian daily newspaper, Andrea Guerra, chief executive of the group, noted that Glasses.com is halfway between “digital and e-commerce” and could have a significant impact on the group's future and the evolution of the industry.

Luxottica invests about €200 million a year on average in acquisitions, although the sum was slightly lower than that in 2013. According to Standard & Poor's, Luxottica is due to make investments of around €400 million this year. Guerra said that the bulk of the monies will go into technology and the “digital transformation” of the company, while 5-10 percent is destined to raise production capacity.

The company has hired 200 people worldwide to continuously develop digital solutions to turn Luxottica into a “glass ball” that can fully communicate with its clients, Guerra said.