Opticians are appreciated by more than 80 percent of European customers for their technical competences, but they don't seem to be as attentive and receptive to the clients' requests in Germany and the U.K. as compared to other major markets. Purchasing trends in these two countries tend to diverge from those in France, Italy and Spain in other respects as well.

Responding to a survey, more than 40 percent of the customers in all the five major European countries admitted that opticians failed to call them a few days or a few weeks after the purchase, to ensure that they were satisfied with what they had bought.

These are some of the most interesting indications obtained through a new study of the European eyewear market, of which we have obtained the details. Commissioned by the two major trade fairs in the continent, Mido and Silmo, their OMO Optical Monitor can be very helpful in spotting trends and suggesting the potential for improvement in certain countries. The survey was carried out online at the end of February by GfK, the market research institute, on a sample of 6,029 consumers aged 16 or more in the five biggest European countries: the U.K., Germany, France, Italy and Spain. 

Only 13 percent of the respondents said that they had bought their eyeglasses online in the previous six months, with German and British customers indicating the highest market penetration for e-commerce at 22 and 17 percent of the purchases, respectively. Mister Spex and Amazon were cited most often in those two countries. The online purchase ratio stood at 11 percent in Spain, 9 percent in Italy and 8 percent in France.

More than 55 percent of the customers bought their last prescription frames at optical retail chains in all the countries except Italy, where independents kept a 56 percent share. The chains had a share of 60 percent or more in all other countries except for Spain, where the ratio stood at 58 percent.

Purchases of sunglasses in the chains averaged 32 percent, with Spain topping the ranking with a 40 percent ratio. Independent opticians came next with a share of 25 percent of sunglass purchases across Europe, but they led the market in Italy, with a share of 40 percent, and came second only in France and Spain. In the U.K. and Germany, the second spot was taken by department stores, with shares of 17 and 15 percent, respectively. They were followed by fashion stores in both countries. Sunglass specialists came in third place only in Italy.

The sales staff in the stores is the biggest vector of information that leads consumers to make a purchase of optical products for 52 percent of the sample across Europe, but the ratio falls to 20 percent in the U.K. The choice of products displayed in the store comes next, followed by the products displayed in shop windows. Browsing through the internet helped 24 percent of the respondents to make up their minds, according to the survey. Fashion magazines, TV or radio advertising and seeing the styles worn by celebrities counted for only 8-10 percent of the sample.

The eyewear practitioner's advice is the most important factor in the consumer's choice of a pair of prescription frames, but the weight of the glasses is also important for more than 60 percent of the customers, followed by the expected health benefits and the type of materials used. The presentation in the store, the color, the fitting and the design come next.

When it comes to sunglasses, the presentation in the store, the color and the design are more important than for the choice of a pair of prescription frames. However, the weight, the materials and the health benefits are also important for more than 50 percent of the customers.

Interestingly, the price and the brand name don't seem to be important criteria in any of the countries analyzed by the study. Price doesn't count much in Germany or Spain, where people seem to be prepared to spend more. In other countries, reimbursements by the government or through insurance policies are evidently a cushioning factor.

The majority of frames worn by the respondents to the survey are made of acetate or metal, which represent respectively 54 and 42 percent of the total market. In Germany metal frames are preferred, apparently because they are considered to be of higher quality, while in Italy they are seen as being more trendy. Rimless frames represent only 11 percent of the market in Europe, reaching a peak of 18 percent in Italy, with a more widespread use in the larger cities.

In terms of vision correction, 45 percent of prescription glasses are used to correct myopia, 24 percent for astigmatism and 20 percent for hypermetropia or presbyopia, with the latter being regarded as more of a problem in Southern Europe.  Over half the sample studied by the OMO – 53 percent – own a pair of prescription glasses, 7 percent of which are over-the-counter reading glasses; 16 percent own a pair of sunglasses, and 7 percent use contact lenses.

Progressive lenses are mounted on 42 percent of the frames in Europe, with a ratio of 59 percent in France contrasting with a low of 32 percent in the U.K. But a majority of 53 percent are single-vision lenses, led by the U.K. and Germany, both with a ratio of 60 percent, followed by Italy with 57 percent and Spain with 52 percent.

Italy leads in the area of photochromic lenses with a share of 15 percent of all the ophthalmic lenses used in the country, followed by the U.K. with 13 percent. The average penetration of photochromics in Europe is 10 percent, but the ratios are only 5 percent in Germany, 8 percent in Spain and 9 percent in France.

Prescription glasses are used most frequently in the office, at home, and for doing manual tasks, in that order. They are used most frequently for reading, watching television and driving. Sunglasses are also frequently used for driving, but Italians tend to use them also to go out in the evening. Contact lenses are seen as an additional aid, used most frequently for attending formal events and for going out in the evening.

The average renewal rate in Europe is 28 percent for a pair of prescription glasses. They tend to last more or less two years for 37 percent of the sample, but while 14 percent of the customers have purchased a new pair after one year, a good number of those interviewed prefer to keep their glasses for three or four years. The average turnover for sunglasses was just one or two years.  

Extrapolating the data from the study, 175 million people with an average age of 50 years wear corrective glasses in the five major European countries, and 55 percent of them are men. There are also 143 million people who wear sunglasses, aged 44 on average. Of those, 54 percent are men.

Controversial data came from the study when the consumers were asked how much they had spent on eyewear in the previous six months and their intentions for the subsequent six months.

Due perhaps to the seasonality of sunglass purchases, the study points to a likely 7 percent drop in volume across Europe for prescription eyewear and an 8 percent increase for sunglasses during the current spring/summer season as compared to the six months prior to the survey. The exceptions to these trends are Germany for prescription frames and the U.K. for sunglasses.

Still, the average price that consumers are willing to spend on prescription eyewear should increase by 13 percent to an average of €223 per pair, indicating that the total market for ophthalmic frames and lenses should increase by 6 percent in value. In Germany, 4 percent more people plan to purchase more prescription eyewear, and they are willing to spend 11 percent more than they did before, or €269.

The biggest drops in the number of units purchased should take place in France and Italy, down by 14 and 17 percent, respectively. The French and the Italians are also shrinking their spending budget for prescription frames, down to €338 and €195, respectively. The British will buy 2 percent fewer items and spend 4 percent less on them. In contrast, Spaniards plan to buy 6 percent fewer glasses while spending 22 percent more per pair, or €193.

Meanwhile, per capita spending on sunglasses should remain stable overall at €95 per pair, except for increases of 15 percent in the U.K. to £71 and 10 percent to €77 in Germany, contrasting with drops of 19 percent to €100 in France and 5 percent in Italy and Spain, down to €110 and €99 respectively.

In terms of trends in units, while they are willing to spend more on average, 9 percent fewer British customers were inclined to purchase a pair of sunglasses at the time of the survey. This was in contrast with projected volume increases of 18 percent in Germany, 22 percent in France, 9 percent in Spain and 4 percent in Italy.

Regarding the purchases made in the six months until the end of February, almost half the sample – 44 percent of those interviewed – said they bought some kind of eyewear during this period, at an average cost of €281 per person. They bought 27.7 million pairs of prescription frames and 14.5 million pairs of sunglasses.

The OMO will be adjusted after this first test and repeated for a new presentation of the latest trends at the Silmo show in Paris in September. The partners in the study plans to scan in greater detail the distinctive trends in the major urban centers, where sunglasses appear to be regarded more frequently as a fashion item.