Focus on Customer Service: The Key to Online and In-store Success

Envision: seeing beyond presents the final article in a series developed to explore online eyewear retailers, how they operate and what they have to offer.

By Evra Taylor

SpecialReportVancouver-based Coastal Contacts ( has become the world’s largest seller of replacement eyeglasses, contact lenses and optical products. The brand is too young to be called iconic, but everything points in the direction of Coastal Contacts growing from its current “star” status to an even greater role in the retail eyewear landscape.

Coastal operates in Europe, North America and Australia, with the promise of a comprehensive product line, savings and shopping ease  –  in other words, affordable, convenient eyewear fashion.

Roger Hardy, founder and CEO, is unapologetically sure of himself and his offering. “We’ve been rated number one in key customer surveys. We run our own laboratory  –  we brought in Essilor people to run the lab  –  source all of our own product and control our own customer service.” Coastal offers a 366-day product guarantee, the only online optical seller to do so.

Hardy, who made his e-commerce debut in 2000, was partly motivated to enter the online marketplace by his discovery of the tremendous markup in contact lenses. “I saw that a $12 box of contact lenses retailed for $70; that was my ‘wow’ moment. I’ve seen many business models, but I’ve never seen this type of margin profile. People try us for the savings but they stay with us because our service level is so high,” he stated.

The web site design is trendy, hot and cutting edge, with an emphasis on style. Clearly, it has set its eye on the younger set that rejects the notion that eyeglass frame functionality and aesthetics are mutually exclusive.

The firm sells across all segments of the market, with a focus on 20- to 30-year-old women who spend $38 to $100 for frames, thus allowing them to enjoy multiple looks.

Coastal is also very engaged in the bifocal and progressives segments for the 45-plus set. At the same time, sales in the 55- to 60-year-old segment have been strong. The demographics reflect slightly more female customers than male, and an eyeglass frame-to-contact lens ratio of 70 per cent to 30 per cent. Hardy predicts additional growth for the eyeglass segment in the next three years, as online purchases represent dramatic savings compared to offline sales.

The company invests heavily in inventory. Coastal carries about six contact lens brands and 50-60 brands of eyewear, with 3,000 frame styles and 30,000 SKUs. In November 2013, Hardy placed global sales at approximately $220 million for the year.

Coastal’s Canadian division operates under the name, which boasts, “the largest in-stock selection of designer frames,” and, “up to 50 per cent off optical store prices.” In 2014, the Canadian operation expanded to bricks and mortar stores in Vancouver and Toronto, with plans to open locations in selected Canadian cities including Calgary, as well as in Europe.

Hardy expects to keep refining his business model and to continue increasing brand awareness. “Our customers tell our story through referrals,” he said. “That’s the conduit for our message. The only way to build a brand is to do a good job.”

What’s the ultimate goal of this growing enterprise? According to the site, nothing less than becoming the “world’s optical store.”