100% Optical

Telling a story, making connections, and addressing value

A panel at 100% Optical reviewed key consumer trends for 2024 and discussed ways optical businesses can respond

A receptionist and patient interact in a clinical setting

A panel at 100% Optical identified key trends set to shape the eyewear market in 2024, through the lens of consumer needs and purchasing habits.

Author, entrepreneur and independent optician, Garry Kousoulou, moderated the session Top 2024 consumer trends: Strategies to stay ahead in eyewear.

Natasha Cazin, senior consultant at Euromonitor International, kicked off the session with an insight into global consumer trends.

Kousoulou and Cazin were then joined in a panel discussion with Lorna Robinson, head of buying at Hakim Group, and Jason Kirk, CEO and Kirk & Kirk, to consider how practices could respond to these consumer demands.

OT reports on takeaways from the session.

1 Key trends for optometry

Each year, analysts at Euromonitor International define a set of Global Consumer Trends that they anticipate will affect businesses in the year ahead.

At 100% Optical, Cazin identified three of those trends that will be particularly relevant to the eyewear and optical sectors: the Wellness Pragmatist, Delightful Distractions, and Value Hackers.

“Self-care isn’t new,” Cazin said of the Wellness Pragmatist trend, but added: “How consumers are doing it is new. Consumers are adopting a more realistic approach to physical and mental health.”

This means attainable goals and consistent improvements, and that consumers are seeking solutions that fit into everyday life.

This is an opportunity for optometry practices to reinforce that eye health and eyewear “play a significant role in promoting broader wellness.”

Those consumers who are part of the Delightful Distractions category are looking for a sense of relief from everyday stressors, defined by Cazin as “moments that make them smile."

Businesses can take the opportunity to build connection, Cazin shared.

According to research by Euromonitor International, some 45% of UK consumers continue to be concerned about the rising cost of everyday expenses, while some 22% do not feel financially secure.

Budgeting has become a norm, Cazin said, building on a trend seen in 2023, but now consumers are seeking to “outsmart the system in clever ways to maximise their budgets.”

Businesses, therefore, need to look at their incentives and think outside the box when it comes to demonstrating value beyond price, “so consumers can really justify their purchase,” she said.

2 Taking the optometry experience outside of ‘life admin’

First, panellists considered the trend for Delightful Distractions.

Hakim Group’s Robinson reflected that, on occasion, she finds herself taking a ‘life admin day’ to catch up on appointments and various tasks.

She shared: “What we need to think about is: how do we take the experience of coming to the optician out of that list of life admin? How do we make this the thing that is the oasis in a sea of life admin and become something consumers look forward to?”

This requires a holistic approach, Robinson suggested, from communicating with patients, to the environment in practice, and to the services offered – such as personal styling.

3 The experience begins long before the appointment

Kirk, CEO of Kirk & Kirk, reminded delegates that the practice experience begins “long before you’re aware that you are dealing with your customers, clients or patients.”

“Your online presence needs to excite,” Kirk said. This applies whether it is the practice website, or social media accounts.

This online experience needs to make consumers feel “this is a place where I want to go,” he suggested, adding, “so they come in feeling excited and love the whole experience with you.”

Patients and customers who leave wearing a pair of spectacles that they love will go on to talk about the practice, Kirk said: “They are the biggest ambassadors for you if they have the right experience.”

4 Help consumers to assess value

Panellists then explored the needs of Value Hackers.

Robinson emphasised: “The important word in here for me is ‘value.’ It is not price.”

Consumers begin assessing value before arriving for their appointment, including through looking at the practice’s online presence, and so she suggested: “Do things really well. Don’t create an Instagram channel if you’re only going to update it once every eight months because that detracts from the value.”

It is easy to become concerned with how price-conscious consumers are, Robinson commented, adding that there can be a temptation to overrange at the budget end of eyewear.

“We absolutely need to cater for the communities that we serve and make sure that there are accessibly priced products that people who are on a budget can go to,” she said. “But the reality is everyone has got a different budget that they are aiming for. If you over-range at the bottom end, then you run out of reasons to go up the tree.”

The practice team should curate ranges consciously and be equipped to articulate the value of the frames, Robinson urged. Why is this frame different: is it a material used? Is it the process? Is it the design or the colours?

“Our customers aren’t experts like we are. They can’t pick up a frame and understand the quality of the hinge or the polishing, the fact that it’s handmade, or the material it’s made from,” she said.

Consumers are reliant on the practice team to explain these factors, “because if we don’t, then what they will assess the value on is what is tangible to them and that they can understand, which is price,” Robinson explained. 

5 Maintain a relationship

Kirk shared that he had seen a shift in his own purchasing behaviours following the COVID-19 pandemic, with new items becoming carefully considered: “Every purchase needs to be special.”

“For me, that’s where the value is really important. It is the value of the experience and the stories that you create for your clients and patients,” Kirk said.

Continued communication can be a tool in this, Kirk suggested: “You can send them a postcard a month later to ask how they feel in their new glasses.”

Maintaining the relationship makes the customer feel valued, he shared.

6 Communicating eye care as part of a wellness routine

Robinson noted how wellness services had become a big industry as consumers seek to know more about their health, whether it’s sleep patterns or gut health.

“We want data, we want insights, we want to know how well we are, and then we want regular delivery of products and services to keep that optimised,” she said.

Reflecting on how the Wellness Pragmatist trend relates to optometry, she identified how the public is often surprised at the issues that can be identified during an eye test, even before becoming symptomatic.

“What this trend shows us is that this is an open door,” Robinson said. “How do we communicate those health credentials? How do we let them know what we do, what we can find out, and why coming to see us regularly is really important.”

This communication needs to be delivered in a patient-friendly way, without “blinding them with science,” and then products and services need to be delivered in ways that fit the patient’s lifestyle.

“Think about eye care plans, because particularly for younger consumers, this is how they consumer wellness – this is how it becomes part of their regular routine,” she said.

7 Support patient understanding to enhance perception of value

Linking to the need to highlight value to the consumer, Robinson shared that the appointments she has found more interesting are those where the practitioner has taken the time to explain what is being done and why.

“Don’t just do the process. Think about your language,” she said. “If we explain the process and the benefits to the patient, it helps feed into that sense of value of, ‘This is why I’m coming to this independent practice, because I’m getting the best level of treatment.’”

This feeds back into consumer’s desire to understand their own health and wellbeing.

Robinson shared that, if a consumer understands what the practitioner is looking at and looking for: “I understand the importance of coming back regularly and having that progression assessed.”

Be conscious of language used in the practice room becoming ‘noise’ rather than something that resonates with the patient, she added.