100% Optical

Six ways to respond to consumer trends in independent practice

A panel discussion at 100% Optical reviewed the key trends set to affect the High Street in 2023 and shared tips for how independent businesses can adapt

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At 100% Optical, delegates gained an insight into the trends affecting consumers, brands and the High Street in 2023.

Nathan Garnett, 100% Optical show director, led a panel discussion with Lorna Robinson, head of buying for Hakim Group, and Jason Kirk, managing director of Kirk & Kirk, unpacking industry trends and how independent practices can respond to the challenges and opportunities these represent.

Natasha Cazin, senior consultant at Euromonitor International, began the session by highlighting three key consumer trends that are set to affect the eyewear market in the next year.


OT gathered six of the key discussion points from the panel:

1 Trend takeaway: Connecting with young consumers

Robinson discussed the importance of recognising that younger consumers are digitally native: “They live their lives online, and if you’re not keeping up with that, you may miss the opportunity to engage those consumers.”

“The chances of a younger consumer coming into your practice having never Googled you is pretty slim,” she added, pointing out that this isn’t restricted to social media, but the whole digital experience, including the practice website.

Many individuals from Generation Z show a strong desire to support brands that align with their social and ethical beliefs.

Thinking about the stories behind the brands in a practice, and being able to communicate them as a team, is important, Robinson shared.

“If the team in practice doesn’t know those stories, and can’t convey them passionately, you’re missing the opportunity to give consumers that connection,” she said.

2 Trend takeaway: Educating around value

Kirk highlighted: “I think what is really important for independent opticians to express is what it is you are paying for when you pay a little bit more. It’s helping the consumer to understand what the value is in a pair of frames or lenses.”

This is particularly true for younger consumers, who will have done their research ahead of coming into the practice.

3 Trend takeaway: Creating community

Cazin pointed to a campaign by Kirk & Kirk in 2022 with inclusion at its heart as an example of aligning with the values of a socially-conscious generation.

Kirk explained that, for the brand, having a dialogue with the consumer is key for creating community: “I think it’s really important for any independent to understand what their niche is, who they are talking to, who they want to attract, and to build community around that.”

“Part of our community is creative, interesting people that just want to express themselves,” he said.

Cazin agreed: “Younger consumers are really interested in: what are these businesses doing?”

She highlighted Urquhart Opticians, a Hakim Group independent practice group, who have several community-focused initiatives, such as monthly charity donations.

Read more about how Urquhart Opticians serves its community on OT.

“If the young person is really into standing up for what they believe in, they’re going to go for that kind of option,” Cazin said.

4 Trend takeaway: Embracing the here and now

Robinson agreed that the ‘Here and Now’ is a key trend. Pulling out factors that independent practices could consider in this trend, she explained that flexible payment solutions had been seen in the industry.

Research from Euromonitor International suggests many consumers have come out of the pandemic wanting to live their lives, but are considering how to make this work alongside managing family budgets.

“I would encourage practices to think about how that may work on a local level, and whether there are things you can do so your patients don’t need to compromise, they can still have all the eyewear solutions that they want, but in a way that works for them financially,” Robinson said.

Another thing to be mindful of, Robinson added, is that “we’re a very high transaction value industry and we need to recognise that patients want exceptional value. Value is not just the price of the products that they buy. It is the entire experience.”

She continued: “I would encourage practice owners to almost try and remove what you know: walk into your practice with a fresh pair of eyes. Go to the reception desk, think about: ‘what is the first thing I see when I walk in? What am I looking at when I’m in the waiting area?’”

The end-to-end experience is where independent practices can “elevate” themselves on the High Street, she added.

Kirk also suggested: “I would say, don’t try and compete on price. Try and elevate what you’re doing way beyond those that are offering budget.”

5 Trend takeaway: Sustainability

Cazin pointed out that sustainability is “huge” as a topic at the moment, and as a driver in consumer choices. It is a topic that is also particularly important to the younger consumer.

Robinson shared that practices at the Hakim Group have a variety of approaches. For some practices, it is important for their local demographic to centre sustainability, while for others it is an additional story.

She noted that many practices are keen to put contact lens recycling “front and centre,” noting: “It’s also a great footfall driver because it’s open to everybody in the community. It isn’t just about the patients in that practice. It’s everybody who wants to do the right thing and recycle their contact lens packaging – and they can provide a community hub to do that.”

6 Trend takeaway: Practice advocates

Kirk described how brands and practices can share messages around certain frames, like the fact that Kirk & Kirk works exclusively in acrylic.

“I think it’s about the individual, the opportunity to express themselves and have something unique that expresses their personality, and that adds value to the whole experience,” he said.

Kirk reminded practitioners to never assume or judge the financial position of patient when discussing options.

“What you are trying to do is give them the full medical experience, and the full styling experience, so that when they leave they feel amazing. You want them to leave being an advocate and sending all their friends.”

A key message evident at 100% Optical 2023 was to ‘understand your patients,’ Robinson suggested. “Who is coming into your practice? Make sure everything that you range, you range for a reason. Have a sensible hierarchy and price points.”

With the cost of living, Robinson acknowledged the need for an accessible price point, but agreed that making assumptions about spending can be a trap.

“One of the most dangerous things to get in your head is: ‘I’m worried about the economy, and therefore, everyone that comes into my practice is going to be spending less,’” she explained. “People still have money to spend, and people still want to treat themselves. We’ve heard that today.”

“So make sure you do not compromise on the premium end of the range,” Robinson continued.