Spending on optical goods fell by 2.2 percent in the U.K. in 2009, according to the Optical Goods and Eyecare UK report done in February by Mintel. Total consumer spending on these products went down to £2.65 billion (€2.98bn-$4.01bn). At current prices, this was an increase of 17 percent from the tally for 2004. In fact, the market as grown steadily over the years, with just a blip for the economic crisis that started in 2008.

The Mintel report expects that moderate growth will resume this year, and by 2014 the market should be worth £3.2 billion (€3.59bn-$4.85bn) ? a 19 percent increase in five years.

Data from another British study, quoted by Optician and conducted by Target Group Index (TGI), found that 63 percent of the 25,000 adults surveyed wore glasses, or 2 million more people than in 2004. This figure was expected to keep increasing as the population ages and expands. TGI estimates that spending on glasses fell by 3.6 percent in 2009 as customers put off purchases, bought cheaper products and used discounts. The number of contact lens wearers has grown by just 1 percent since 2004, now at 8 percent of those who use vision correction. This figure is higher in London (11 percent) and among those aged 25-34 (14 percent).

TGI found that 3 percent of adults has undergone laser vision procedures, but this may include medical procedures in addition to vision correction. Again this trend was stronger in London at 5 percent of the adult population. It could grow, as 8 percent those who wear glasses and contact lenses said they would consider having laser vision correction.

Customers generally don't shop around, with 40 percent buying their eye products from the same practitioner who does their exam, according to Mintel. One-fourth of shoppers go to independent opticians, and one-third of them get them at Specsavers. Grocery stores attract 4 percent of customers.

The report warned about the effects of the weak pound, saying it would increase staff and occupancy costs. To keep making a profit, eye care professionals will have to find ways to add value to their offering, such as more options for eye exams.

The 2010 Plimsoll Analysis of the optical industry in the U.K. indicates that the future is looking brighter, even as it predicts more job losses and consolidation. The tough recession of the last couple of years ? on top of 30 years of a weak market ? has left many companies barely surviving. Ninety-one companies were cited as likely for a takeover or merger, which Plimsoll doesn't consider necessarily a bad thing; the loss of independence would go hand-in-hand with getting back in the black and maintaining business. The report also rates the top 500 companies in the optical industry.