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Observing the eyewear market: consumer spend, pandemic recovery and sustainable expectations

OT  heard from Natasha Cazin, senior consultant at Euromonitor International, on market and consumer trends in UK eyewear

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At the beginning of the year, the market analysis and consumer insight provider, Euromonitor International, released its Top 10 Global Consumer Trends 2022 report, identifying emerging trends in consumer values and behaviours.

The report noted that consumer resilience and adaptability was tested in 2021, but in the year ahead, “access and action are the driving forces” behind 2022 consumer trends, with purchasing behaviours based on values.

Much has already happened to shake up the eyewear market in the first few months of 2022, with an end to COVID-19 restrictions in the UK, contrasted against spiralling inflation, and economic challenges.

Ahead of the arrival of Euromonitor International’s next report, OT asked Natasha Cazin, senior consultant, for insight into the market picture as it stands now.

Natashas headshot
Natasha Cazin
 What does the market picture for eyewear in the UK look like so far in 2022? How has the sector been recovering following the pandemic and what do you anticipate the trajectory to look like?

The first couple of months of 2022 witnessed a pick-up in most eyewear categories in the UK following the lifting of Plan B measures, scrapping of work from home guidance, COVID-19 passports and the mandatory wearing of face masks. What’s more, with over 30 million boosters provided by the Government, consumers were more confident in going out shopping.

Nevertheless, despite optical stores having reopened and remaining open during the majority of 2021 and the beginnings of 2022, some British consumers were still hesitant about visiting stores due to the spread of the new Omicron variant, which was a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic was far from over.

What’s more, with the unexpected rise in inflation, we expect supply chain pressures to remain throughout the whole of 2022 and this will fundamentally push prices of eyewear products (including spectacles, contact lenses and sunglasses) upwards for the end consumer.

According to Euromonitor International, the UK spectacles market will recover to pre-COVID-19 levels of sales from 2023, as the economy rebounds and as consumers feel more confident shopping in store. In contact lenses, daily disposable lenses will also continue to grow, thanks to their practical use and perception as more hygienic products. Traditional players in sunglasses will see increasing competition from unrelated tech companies as these seek opportunities outside their regular realm.

A 2021 Euromonitor report noted that there was a continued polarisation in consumer spend on eyewear. How has this situation evolved? What does this mean for businesses like those in optometry?

In 2022, we see a continued polarisation in the consumer spend on eyewear. On the one hand, there is a proportion of consumers who have been affected by the economic crisis, rises in inflation, and are more budget aware. Some 59% of UK consumers would look for value for money when buying a fashion product, according to Euromonitor International’s 2022 Voice of the Consumer Lifestyle Survey. On the other hand, there is a proportion of consumers, usually Millennials and Gen Z, who even prior to the pandemic were gravitating towards luxury eyewear brands with a strong digital presence and interesting retailing experiences.

In 2021 and the beginning of 2022, engaging retail experiences, such as the Gentle Monster stores which are designed to resemble art exhibitions, continued to appeal to millennial and Gen Z consumers.

Brands with a strong presence in the luxury fashion scene, such as Gucci and Saint Laurent, continue to see strong demand. While private label players, such as Specsavers, are also performing well. This has resulted in eyewear players at both ends of the market performing better at the expense of the mid-priced segment, such as brands Hugo Boss, Polaroid and Carrera, owned by Italian eyewear group Safilo Group, for example. The exit of the Dior, Max Mara and Fendi licences, as well as Givenchy at the end of 2021, prompted Safilo to redefine its portfolio last year.

Euromonitor indicated that physical practices remained of value for consumers, however e-commerce has also become more attractive to consumers during the past few years. What strengths can physical practices play into, and how are you seeing them adapt to this changing environment?

Consumers of eyewear are finding themselves in a constant dilemma. On the one hand, they seek the convenience and competitiveness of shopping online. On the other hand, optical consumers are in search of professional eye care expertise, the in-store adjustments of frames, correct prescriptions guarantee and style preferences in practice. When thinking about their motivations for shopping in-store, some 40% of UK respondents, according to Euromonitor's 2022 Consumer Lifestyles survey, want to buy fashion and accessories in-person.

Practices are now looking towards an omnichannel future as the best way to address these changing consumer habits to assist the patient at all touch points, ensuring that the online and in-store experiences complement each other to deliver a more engaging and interactive customer service. Various forward-thinking independent eyewear specialists have made the jump from the e-commerce space into the physical store arena, to create a streamlined experience for their customers. Examples of online brands crossing over include Finlay of London, Feroce Eyewear and Warby Parker.

Euromonitor’s Top 10 Global Consumer Trends for 2022 noted that older consumers have become more familiar with technology and are empowered to use services through digital channels or adopt tech solutions. What might this mean for practices on the High Street, and perhaps the way they communicate with consumers?

Easy-to-use technology and seamless solutions combined with face-to-face communication define the future of digital inclusion for seniors. Businesses across a whole variety of consumer industries that been successful in catering to this cohort have been innovative in adapting existing technologies to the older consumer, from tailormade smart phones to VR headsets. Tech companies have also been offering extra support in training to help consumers make sense of the digital world.

An example of this can be found in the food industry, with US grocery delivery platform Instacart’s Senior Support Service. With this service, the company can assist with a range of activities, such as setting up an account, placing orders and troubleshooting. Optical practices on the High Street also need to tailor their digital experiences in the same way as has been seen in the food industry, offering additional support and keeping it simple for their customers.

Some 65% of global respondents aged 60 plus say that they are more likely to purchase fashion and accessories through a website on a computer, while less than a third of respondents would opt to purchase these products through a mobile app, according to Euromonitor’s 2021 Voice of the Consumer Digital Survey.

Increased attention to sustainability was also identified within the Top 10 Consumer Trends. How might we see manufacturers or businesses evolve in light of this and the ‘Climate Changers’ amongst consumers?

Sustainability is a key focus for consumers and has been, and will continue, to constantly evolve. Climate Changers want two things. Firstly, these consumers are demanding action from brands on how industries contribute to climate change. Secondly, they would like help in understanding how to reduce their carbon footprint. There are various things that businesses can do to assist in this.

Eyewear brands are expected to increasingly include environmentally sustainable offerings, such as including more collections made with ecological or recycled materials. At the 100% Optical trade show in London in April 2022, I saw a plethora of new sustainable eyewear brand offerings hit the UK market, including Cornwall-based Waterhaul, which partners with several mechanical recycling facilities to process various forms of end-of-life fishing gear into repurposed eyewear. This adds to the list of more long-standing brands, such as South African brand, David Green, and Barcelona-based Sea2See, that were exhibiting at the trade fair.

In the UK, there are a growing number of recycling initiatives within the contact lens industry. As one example, Johnson & Johnson has the ACUVUE Contact Lens Recycle Programme in partnership with global recycling specialist, TerraCycle.