Startup Spotlight: Postoptics sees a bright future

Dot-com finds a winner with a product you don't need to see before buying

The last few months have been gloomy times for the e-commerce sector, with big names such as Buy.com cutting staff and Pets.com shutting down. However, dot-com retailer Postoptics -- which sells contact lenses -- is doing well by selling a wide range of products in the niche sector of eyecare. The site was launched in 1997 by Yorkshire optician Trevor Rowley, whose high street shop specialises in contact lenses. It sells a variety of different types of lenses, including daily disposable, extended wear and coloured contacts. Shoppers can also order eyecare equipment such as saline solution and eyedrops. The site, which has a rather basic and unexciting design, uses the well-known "shopping basket" system. It's pretty easy to navigate around, and helpfully offers a freephone helpline. In order to keep within the law, users have to give the details of an optician who has given them a "specification" or prescription within the last year -- information which Postoptics has to check. The firm seems to have done well in its three years in operation. Sales in 2000 totalled £4m, and Postoptics is hoping to achieve £6m this year. Since it started, Postoptics has handled over 40,000 purchases, and is currently attracting over 1,000 visitors each day. Rowley attributes the success of his site to the fact that it makes a boring task easier for consumers. "Postoptics is the cheapest and the fastest and flexible way for consumers to replenish their eyecare supplies, which is a necessity shop that most of us consider to be a chore rather than a pleasure," he explained. According to Postoptics, its products are up to 60 percent cheaper than those from traditional retailers -- which it attributes to a lack of "massive high street" overheads. In particular, large reductions are available if you buy a year's supply of lenses. There are also occasional special offers, such as free delivery if you buy three bottles of a certain lens cleaner. However, in the past it has been criticised by rivals for not offering health aftercare, although Postoptics does send out reminders to its users when they need a checkup. To date, Postoptics has shown that it is possible to make a success of selling products on the Internet. It has the advantage that it doesn't have to spend money giving eye tests to its Internet customers, and that contact lenses are small and light, so it doesn't incur large postage or storage costs. And, after achieving around 200 percent growth each year, Rowley is bullish about the future. "After more than two years of experience and 40,000 purchases, we are clearly the pioneers of the current online eyecare boom," he said. The service: postoptics.co.uk
What it does: Sells contact lenses and eye-care products
Who it's for: Contact lens wearers who know their prescription
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